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Some constants in the world of online marketing

Modern online marketing is less than 10 years old, and the rules are being rewritten every day. But some things never change.

Modern online marketing is less than 10 years old, and the rules are being rewritten every day. I was reminded of this at an excellent seminar in Minneapolis last week presented by the Online Marketing Connect Institute

For the average marketer, trying to get one’s brain wrapped around the online world can be dizzying. Should you be concerned with e-mail, social media, search engine optimization, demand generation, analytics or any of a dozen other topics?

The answer is, all of the above. Yet it’s impossible to be a specialist in all those disciplines. A lot of smart people are deeply immersed in just one area, gaining a depth of knowledge that would be difficult for a non-specialist to duplicate.

Take search engine optimization, a topic that fascinates me. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it’s using key words and phrases that help your website show up more prominently in search engines. Experts say that if your site doesn’t appear on the first page of search results, it’s unlikely to found at all.

If you Google “Minnesota news,” for example, MinnPost doesn’t show up on the first page of results. Try “in depth Minnesota news,” however, and it does. So, the secret to success is getting your site on the first page for your key search terms, right?

Not so fast. Just as important is the “long tail:” words and phrases that aren’t necessarily obvious, but that will attract searchers looking for more obscure information. You can use a combination of more obscure terms to generate a stream of traffic that can mitigate the absence of your site from a broad search result.

Catfish’s lessons
At the seminar, we heard about search engine optimization from a colorful, San Diego-based expert named Ray “Catfish” Comstock, a lean guy with a ponytail and a foot-long goatee who also plays guitar for the band “Dive Bomber.”

I could have listened to him all day, even though some of what he said was off in the weeds to me. But just as a foreign language can be learned through immersion, I’ve always thought that one can benefit greatly from immersion in new business concepts, even if the learning curve is steep at first.

And Catfish made one point that really hit home with me, helping me realize that some fundamentals of marketing apply in every venue. After half an hour of the ins and outs of metrics and strategies and testing protocols, he suddenly came back to familiar ground.

“Persuasive language — language that sells — is underused,” Catfish said. “Have a call to action. Communicate the benefits of your product rather than the features. If you use persuasive language, you will sell more.”

In other words, no matter how fancy your website is, no matter how sophisticated your methods of measuring and analyzing traffic, you still have to tell customers what you can do for them — and ask for the sale.

It’s nice to know that some things never change.