You can’t afford to not make online digital marketing a priority in 2018. Of course you’re busy, and this kind of planning takes time, so here are 6 things to keep in mind when putting the plan together.

Step 1: Define who you’re selling to

Knowing your audience isn’t always as simple as it sounds.

“I’m targetting potential clients who need what I sell,” you say. Absolutely true. But those people aren’t all the same. It will work best for you if you break your audience down into a few main groups. Some companies even create fictional individuals (or “personas”) to encapsulate the different types of audience groups they have. Using these personas while you create online content will help you better address their questions and their needs.

To define these personas, you need to get two types of information – the basics, and the driving forces that are more emotional.

Think of the basics as a bit like the first four of the five Ws – Who, What, When and Where. While this analogy doesn’t line up perfectly, it’s the easiest information to dig up – an audience member’s name, their age, where they work, what their job is, and possibly even what they earn.

Once you’ve established the basics, it gets more interesting as you build these personas. This is the more touchy-feely stuff that looks at the “Why” part of the five Ws and uncovers the passion and the driving forces behind your potential client. What do they want to achieve? What’s stopping them? What are their other interests? What is most important to them in their work and their life? Use this information as you audit what you have on your website now to make sure it strikes a chord with the different types of potential clients, and to adjust or create new content to draw more of them in.

Step 2: Establish goals and how to measure if you’re meeting them

As you line up your content to best meet your clients needs, you also need to set your targets for the coming months to see how well your new digital marketing efforts are working.

Being able to come up with firm numbers on how close you’re getting to your goal is crucial. This might seem straightforward at first: “To see if I’ve doubled my client base, I just have to count my clients.” But it is also important to track the success of the steps along the way, such as how much your online marketing efforts are responsible for your growth (a good digital marketing company can help you get the tools to figure out those numbers).

Step 3: Determine if what you’re doing online right now is helping you reach your goals

You may well be doing some online marketing already. But which of these efforts will you keep going with, and which aren’t giving you any returns and need to be kicked to the curb?

Online marketing strategies fall in to three categories:

  1. Ones that are owned (things you have complete control over online like your website or your Twitter feed);
  2. earned (other people singing your praises online or showcasing your abilities); and
  3. paid (anywhere you’re handing over money to get your company’s name showcased online – think AdWords and social advertising, such as ads on Facebook).

It’s good to analyze whether you’re using all three of these online marketing channels, whether you need to (or even want to) use them all, and how you can improve how you’re using them already.

Step 4: Look closely at your owned, earned and paid media

Since you have the most control over your “owned” digital marketing media, it makes sense to evaluate how well it’s working for you. You have already looked at whether it addresses your client personas’ needs and questions. A few other things to look at are:

  • Which pieces of it are contributing the most to reaching your measurable goals (and where else can you duplicate its success with similar efforts)?
  • Which of your efforts aren’t getting much attention and need to be altered or canned?
  • How can you create new online content to fill any gaps you have and measure whether that content is a success?

The same kind of scrutiny needs to be applied to earned and paid media. While some of your earned media is out of your control (like word-of-mouth recommendations), others aren’t (such as guest blog posts or volunteered articles for professional publications). You can use tools such as Google Analytics to measure whether those voluntary contributions have driven people to your web site.

Measuring how well your paid media efforts have worked out for you is even easier – return on investment is pretty clear with those efforts and can help you figure out which to repeat, tweak, or drop.

Step 5: Put it all together…

You know your different audience groups better now, and what they want from you. You are adjusting your online content to meet their needs as part of your strategy. You’ve defined your own goals and can measure whether you’re meeting them. From those measurements, you know what you need to keep doing, where you might want to replicate those strategies, and what needs to be changed. You can see how well your current digital marketing is working – whether it’s owned, earned or paid – and you can put together a detailed plan on how you want to move forward with new online marketing content and measure its success.

Break out the timelines, break out the spread sheets, be realistic and don’t forget build in the points where you need to measure your success. Your colleagues (and your sanity) will thank you for it.

Step 6: … and keep it simple to start

People don’t have a lot of time when it comes to digesting marketing and you don’t have a lot of time to try a bunch of new online strategies. Start manageable (for you) and keep your messaging short and jargon-free (for them).

Particularly when choosing new online marketing paths, don’t try everything at once. Pick a small number of strategies, try them out, and evaluate their success regularly, making adjustments or even switching paths if it feels right.

These six steps will help ensure that you don’t go out into that digital marketing forest without a flashlight and a map. And a good online marketing company can make sure you have the right tools to make it to the other side of the trees. And beyond.