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FutureNow Article
Sunday, Feb. 4, 2007

7 BIG Questions for Online Marketers

By Jeffrey Eisenberg
February 4th, 2007

Icon___Question_Mark.jpgWe hear the questions businesses ask: How do I increase my sales or leads? How do I get more traffic to my site? How do I get better search engine rankings? How do I get fewer customers to abandon their shopping carts? What do I do with all this data I’m getting from my analytics software?

These are important questions.

Ask a Bigger Question

What makes people buy? When you focus on this question, all the subsequent details fall much more easily into place. This is not a word game; it’s a change in perspective. Without a proper strategy, you can win every battle and still lose the war.

Tactics: The Unspoken Assumptions

Whenever businesses tackle optimization, site design or redesign, they start with a set of assumptions. Very often, these assumptions depend on a granular, detail-oriented view of the problem as the business sees it (from the perspective of the business, not the customer). Very often, the problem is couched in the language of “best practices”, a series of tactics. However, to paraphrase Sun Tzu, tactics applied without strategy are the noise before defeat.

Asking a “bigger question” broadens your view of your situation beyond the details; bigger questions often lead you to reevaluate your strategies, which in turn allows you to devise more effective tactics. The critical answers to these bigger questions—the answers that meet your specific needs—can only from you.

7 Online Marketing Challenges & How to Frame Them as Bigger Questions

Here’s a list of the top seven challenges clients put to us, with their variations. We reframe them through bigger questions to target the deeper issues that influence your marketing effectiveness.

Icon___Traffic.jpg1. “We need to reach more people.”

Sometimes you simply need to reach more people. You need to improve your search engine rankings; you need to add more keywords to your search engine marketing; you need to find new or more places to advertise; you need to grow your list; you need to advertise offline; you need viral marketing; you need to increase the number of links to your site; you need to add or modify an affiliate program, and other variations on this theme.

Bigger questions to explore and ask yourself:

  • Are enough of the people coming to our website sufficiently satisfied with what we present that they buy, or does our presentation damage our reputation and create an impediment to buying?
  • Are enough of the people who buy from us sufficiently delighted to purchase again, are we wasting resources by driving new traffic?
  • Do we provide enough of the right information for people to return even when they are not ready to buy right now?
  • Are we focused more on marketing to the search engines or marketing to the people who visit our site?

Icon___Better_People.jpg2. “We need to reach better people.”

Sometimes you simply need to reach better people. You need to target more appropriate publications; you need to select better keywords; you need to source better lists; you need to find more qualified buyers; you need to reach your competitor’s customers; you need to reach people when they are ready to buy; you need the right content to attract search engine traffic, and other variations on this theme.

Bigger questions to explore and ask yourself:

  • If we reach those people, do we have relevant content for them when they are in the early, middle and late stages of their buying process?
  • Is our offering so narrow that there are too few “better” people?
  • Does the buyer only identify the need and buy on a very short time horizon, such that we need to find them before they have the need?
  • Is the message we’ve been telling the “wrong” people strong enough for them to reach out and tell the “better” people?

Icon___Resources.jpg3. “We need more resources.”

Sometimes you simply need more resources. You need more money; your need enough time; you need the right consultant; you need better-skilled people; you need the right talent; you need the right vendor; you need to justify your opportunity costs, and other variations on this theme.

Bigger questions to explore and ask yourself:

  • Do our priorities and goals match our resource allocations?
  • Do we commit our resources based on predicted rates of return?
  • Do we hold people accountable for those returns when allocating new resources?
  • If we don’t have the resources or time to do it correctly now, when will we have the resources or time; when, exactly, will we commit to do it?

Icon___Usability.jpg4. “We need better testing and usability.”

Sometimes you simply need better testing and usability. You need to make it easy to buy from you; you need to make it easy for visitors to find what they are looking for; you need to make it easy to checkout; you need to get feedback from visitors; you need to set up tests and watch how visitors vote with their mice; you need to test to isolate which variables are most important to your visitors; you need to test to see which offers work best, and variations on this theme.

Bigger questions to explore and ask yourself:

  • What motivates people to buy even when sites aren’t usability-friendly?
  • If usability is the only critical factor, why haven’t conversion rates improved in any meaningful way over the last five years, when attention to usability has increased dramatically?
  • What if what we’re testing is only what we can think of, but the problem lies in what we haven’t thought of yet; which variables are truly significant and which are not?
  • How do we know that pages further up or down the click-stream don’t affect the test we are conducting on one page?
  • Do our scientific tests include an hypothesis of the outcome, a theory for why we expect the outcome and a statistically meaningful sample size so we can validate or refute our hypothesis and learn from the results; can we apply that learning more broadly to other situations?
  • Would different click-through paths for different audience segments give us a cumulatively higher conversion than the best average conversion?

Icon___Redesign.jpg5. “We need to redesign.”

Sometimes you simply need to redesign. You need to scrap what isn’t working for you; you need more persuasive copy; you need more persuasive or illustrative images; you need to refresh your company image; you need to update your technology; you’ve added so many pieces to the original design that you need to reconceive it, and variations on this theme.

Bigger questions to explore and ask yourself:

  • Do we need a redesign or do we need to make what we have work?
  • Why will the redesigned site better serve visitors?
  • How, exactly, will the redesigned site better serve visitors?
  • Why are the best-converting sites so often boring in their design?
  • Will our redesign incorporate a scientific testing methodology that will allow us to optimize click-streams based on a prediction of how different audience segments will engage with the site?

Icon___Metrics.jpg6. “We need better metrics.”

Sometimes you simply need better metrics. You need to measure the impact on conversion of the elements on your website; you need a good web analytics program; you need to turn your data into wisdom so you can act upon it; you need to measure whether your predictions were correct; you need to identify what campaigns, keywords, elements and audience segments give you the best return on your investment, and variations on this theme.

Bigger questions to explore and ask yourself:

  • How can we better implement the web analytics program we are currently; do we understand how the data we collect impacts our financial statements?
  • Are our metrics based on the way we set up our website to sell or on our visitors’ buying cycles and buying modalities?
  • Do our metrics help us refine our website to meet visitor expectations?
  • Have we identified and planned an intentional path so that metrics can help us separate the signal from the noise or is our analysis an attempt to divine order from randomness?

Icon___Conversion.jpg7. “We need a better Conversion Rate.”

Sometimes you simply need a better conversion rate. You need a better return on investment on your traffic; you need to remove obstacles to conversion; you need to plug the holes in your leaky bucket; you need to reduce shopping cart abandonment; you need visitors to complete more lead generation forms; you need more business, and variations on this theme.

Bigger questions to explore and ask yourself:

  • How does our conversion rate affect our advertising and promotional budget?
  • If we could attract a drastically reduced audience that converts better, we’ve increased our conversion rate. Are we prepared to reduce our conversion rate if we can generate more sales at an acceptable return on investment?
  • If what we are offering is good, what are all the potential reasons why someone wouldn’t convert today, in 30 days, in 60 days, etc.?
  • What is the percentage of visitors we would expect to lose to each of our potential reasons?
  • After identifying all the potential reasons why someone wouldn’t convert, if we can’t justify why our conversion rate is less than 20%, why would we set our goals so much lower than that?
  • Is it possible that the strategy that helps you increase the average conversion rate isn’t the strategy that would produce the most overall sales or best results?
  • Would different click-through paths for different audience segments give us a cumulatively higher conversion than the best average conversion?

Meeting your challenges

Time and again we have learned that the answers to these bigger questions, which depend on a critical appraisal and an intimate knowledge of the business, its marketplace, its audience and its objectives, make the difference when it comes to being successful online.

You can tackle these bigger questions yourself. Objectivity and being able to see outside the box that defines your current situation will best serve the quality of your answers.

What happens if you don’t want to rethink your challenges or to identify more effective marketing solutions? Things stay the same, and you never realize your potential.

What happens if you’re unsure how to, or can’t, rethink your challenges?

Well, that’s why we’re here!

Add Your Comments

Comments (26)

  1. I agree. Nice to put it all in such a clear simple framework.

  2. That’s a great article Jeffrey – I hear these all the time from clients, so its good to see the rephrasing of their questions you suggest.

    To succeed with online marketing, many questions are fundamental marketing questions – these are the fundamental strategy questions I ask web site owners to consider:

    - Who are our IDEAL customers?

    - How do we REACH them?

    - How do we ENGAGE them?

    - How do we PERSUADE them?

    - How do we deliver VALUE to them?

    - How do we KEEP doing this this?

    Answer all of those questions successfully and you’ve succeeded – all comes back to target marketing.

    Dave Chaffey

  3. Dave, Thanks for your feedback. “Great” may be a little much but I appreciate the compliment. Word for word this post took the longest time to compose of anything I ever wrote besides “Waiting For Your Cat To Bark?”.

  4. [...] Posted on February 8th, 2007. See the full story here [...]

  5. [...] Done? Great, now I have a different question for you: How do you calculate the ROI of your SEO efforts? That’s not a rhetorical question, I really want to know. [...]

  6. [...] As marketers, it's no wonder we'd like to have stock metrics to help us out. Who wouldn't want them? Clients certainly like to think in these terms. But real measurement assumes real planning as its prerequisite–Web 2.0 or otherwise. So, before metricizing ourselves to death, let's all be sure to ask bigger questions. Technorati Tags: Marketing 20 Web 20, Metrics [...]

  7. Great stuff! Your article clarifies the issue and breaks it down into answerable (pithy) questions which provokes more thought. Look forward to your articles!

  8. [...] Tom Foremski's post is fascinating, not so much for what he gets right but what he misunderstood. Read his post and comments to see what is broken. What is broken is lay people's understanding of how search engines work. It is why Search Engine Optimists are able to overcharge so many businesses for services they don't need. I'm not saying Search Engine Optimization doesn't have a time and a place. I'm simply saying that the average person doesn't understand that place.That is why so many business owners pay Search Engine Optimization (SEO) firms (sorry to the handful of ethical SEO firms) what amounts to extortion money out of fear of losing their rankings; even when that ranking brings traffic that doesn't convert. Sad! They should ask better questions. Technorati Tags: accountable marketing, Search Engine Marketing, search engine optimization [...]

  9. [...] We're always looking to ask bigger questions. Here's a few that I'm wondering about: [...]

  10. [...] What are you testing? Are you measuring the entire customer experience? Or are you just testing individual interactions? How are you deciding what to test? Are you planning what could be? How much more successful could you be if you knew what it is your customers want that they aren't getting. Are you so busy optimizing the chocolate you haven't thought about the strawberry? Whatever you do, keep asking bigger questions. Technorati Tags: accountable marketing, improving website conversion, Web Analytics [...]

  11. [...] But we don't want to focus on fundamentals or ask strategic questions before we act. And that's a shame. [...]

  12. [...] can't be the only one who thinks Xerox needs to rethink their strategy? Technorati Tags: brand personality, Public Relations, Word of [...]

  13. [...] I won't use this research against her!), she often times moves on to Jeffrey. I ran his famous 7 Strategy Challenges post through the Gender Genie, and have no fear… off the charts [...]

  14. Good tips, thanks Jeffrey.

  15. [...] of tricks and tips to improve your site’s sales lead generation rate.  The folks over at GrokDotCom say there are more than 1100. In my experience the top three factors to increase sales leads from [...]

  16. [...] What makes people buy? Explore these 7 challenges to conversion [...]

  17. [...] loves lists. We love lists. Sometimes we agree with Steve. Sometimes we don't. He's an opinionated guy, and we [...]

  18. Great tips!

  19. [...] people experienced with past/current products, new research, and conversion issues. Make sure you ask the right questions, keeping lessons learned from the former site in [...]

  20. [...] People often ask us, "What's the average Conversion Rate in my industry?" Fair enough, but does it matter? If you're converting less than 1/10th of your traffic, you should be concerned. If you're converting more than that, you can do better. We all can. It's even possible to double your conversion rate, if you ask bigger questions. [...]

  21. It is definitely very important to make sure that you reach the right people. A hit and miss campaign is not really worth the effort. When attempting a campaign that doesn’t have a specific market in mind you need to make sure it is huge generally and this will waste a lot of time. You also don’t want to upset potential customers with over done bulk attempts to attract attention. Monitoring of the results of any campaign is perhaps to be considered as the most important aspect. If you can’t prove results then there is more chance you have had little or no impact??

  22. Great article, thanks!

    I especially agree with “you need better people”. We have found that the type of visitor we draw directly impacts our sales. We can drive lots of traffic that results in no sales. Quality of traffic is key!

  23. I appreciate your insights and the good information you have shared here. All points are significantly important for me and your article have helped me a great deal.
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  24. Well these tips are very useful for me. Now I can implement an effective marketing campaign. I think it will bring better results for me. Thanks

  25. The most effective marketing campaign, is when you target the most qualified prospect. I truly believe this and apply this in my business often. I do not waste so much time just getting any kind of click or visitor. I actually take the time thinking about my ideal prospect and figuring out exactly where they hang out. That’s how you launch successful advertising campaigns.

  26. Traffic alone may not bring sales but targeted traffic to those interested in your product or service is vital. You can get bogged down in too much data and assumptions.

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Jeffrey Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark. You can friend him on Facebook.

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