Targeting your key demographic online is getting harder and harder. While new portals that offer information to niche markets spring up like summer weeds, it is hard to decipher the legitimacy of not only their readership, but the depth and significance of their content, the source of their traffic, and the accuracy of their traffic reporting. The reasons for this lie in not only the increasing popularity of the internet for all ages, but the costs and low expected results now associated with "targeted" marketing campaigns.
Initially, the online marketing boom mainly changed the daily habits of adolescents, college kids, and young entrepreneurs. Now, Grandparents look forward to e-mails with fresh picture attachments, and more people meet their significant others on the web than they do at speed-dating convention. If there is an interest, someone has created a way to profit from it online. While the readiness of information is a convenience, it has led to a whole new set of concerns for small business owners.
Who can you trust to get your message across to the professionals who need your services? I am sure that there are many websites that consider themselves home to the community that can jump start your business. Claiming to be fueled by expert credentials, with an "opt-in" readership of people waiting to be sold on your breakthrough methods or product, these websites seem to be the answer to marketing prayers. For the small fee of $30,000+, you too can speak to these managers and share your wisdom.
How is this possible for the small business owner to justify? How can you trust that the website is representing their credentials appropriately, and that investing with them will be safe and, most importantly, productive? It is an excellent possibility their compiled "subscriber" lists come from others' saleable data. There's also the chance that many of those e-mail addresses will prove to be invalid.
Unless the World Wide Web takes measures to institute standards and credential guidelines for information portals, here are a few tips to help evaluate a site before you invest in their sales and marketing packages:
• How did they compile their subscriber list? How do they maintain that list to minimize the number of invalid e-mail accounts that it contains?
• Where do they get their content? From other site's feeds, or do they create it in house? How often do they update this information (weekly, monthly, never)? Always ask this question, and then complete due diligence to confirm that the information portal does post in this time frame, and that articles are not reposted or recycled articles from another online portal.
• How often do they send out mass e-mails to their subscriber list? If the website sends out new information more than two times a week, there is a lower chance that their messages will be highly regarded or even noticed.
• Who are their key authors and senior management? What are their credentials? Make sure that those writers and managers have a thorough understanding of the topic they sell, as well as commensurate credentials.
• How long has the information portal been operating under that domain name and in that in capacity? My "rule of thumb" is to beware of any site that has more then 8k subscribers per year in operation.
• Survey your clients and prospective clients. See where they actually call home on the web. If a significant percentage (40%-50%) of these clients are at least somewhat familiar with the information portal you are considering investing with, it is probably a safe investment.
• Spend some time looking at the ads that are currently on the site you are interested in. Are you impressed with the amount of visibility they receive? Are the posted ads from quality companies that you feel are in keeping with the message of the site?
• Are their a lot of ads for one of your larger competitors the may dwarf your message? What ideas do the sales and marketing team at the information portal have to keep that from happening?
• Call some of the other companies that are advertising on the site. A call may come out of the blue to them, but this element of surprise may create more honest answers, as pre-qualified references are often a waste of time. Find the decision maker at the establishment that is currently advertising on the site and ask them questions like: "What kind of return are you seeing?" "How quickly do they respond to your issues or questions?" "Do they seek your approval before issuing statements on your behalf?" Try to ask these types of questions as many times as you can without completely agitating the person on the other end of the phone. It may seem annoying to the person on the other end, but it ends up being an effective tool for seeking information.
By performing this kind of due diligence, you will be able to more easily identify and evaluate information portals that will help you maximize your marketing investment. Many marketing firms have already performed comprehensive evaluations of information portals, so they may be able to relay this kind of information to you more quickly than performing investigative work on you own.
Also, if you do not have the staff to accomplish this, many online marketing firms would be happy to perform this service for you. Hiring an experienced firm to help your company evaluate your options for allocation of marketing funds may prove to be a wise investment. This is especially true when you consider what can be gained through an effective and targeted online marketing campaign, as well as what can be lost by choosing an ill equipped, poorly managed, or over-hyped portal.
About the Author: Lila Buchalski is Managing Partner of BankCheck Inc. (http://www.TheBankCheck.com), an online marketing and web development firm. A graduate of Rutgers University, Lila has significant experience in both the online Editorial, and Marketing Director function.
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