* This was originally published on November 7, 2017 and has been updated to reflect a changing digital landscape.
Regardless of your product or service, making sure your audience has a variety of ways to interact with your brand is crucial. An online ecosystem means having the complimentary digital pieces (social media, an email marketing program, a strong website, a blog strategy, etc.) to effectively and consistently engage in meaningful interaction with the people who need to hear from you.
Table of contents:
1. Build a Content-Rich Website
2. Determine Which Social Media Platforms Are Right for Your Brand
3. Collect Emails & Treat Them Well
4. Create a Content Strategy & Plan
5. Update Your Ecosystem Constantly
Assembling a Digital Ecosystem
If you need to know how to assemble a pinball table or if you wanted to know a celebrity’s birthday, where would you go? Let me guess — Google.
If you want your target audience to find YOU when they are looking for your product or service, you need to create and prepare your website for their arrival.
The health and climate of your organization’s online presence can be tightly linked to the success of your organization. Creating a robust and easily manageable online ecosystem is key to your organization’s success.
What is an online ecosystem?
An online ecosystem is a way of mapping your organization’s presence on different digital channels.
For example, you may be on a few social media platforms – let’s say LinkedIn, Facebook, and Youtube – have your own website, operate your own blog, have a nice healthy email list that you send to occasionally, and run a podcast.
All those different ‘brand presences’ you have combine together to form your digital ecosystem. When thinking about your channels this way, there are two key considerations:
- Making sure each individual presence represents your organization well and matches your marketing goals.
- Making sure the way your audience moves through each channel and onto another is intentional and aligns with their own ideal user journey.
1. Build a Content-Rich Website
It’s vital that your website warrants traffic. Your online digital ecosystem needs a website, and the more thought and intention you put into it, the better off you’ll be.
You want your audience to find what they’re looking for when visiting your website, easily navigating the answers to the queries they typed in and the questions they have – all the way down to finding the right solution (your product) that fits their needs.
How to Turn the Buyer’s Journey into a Website Funnel
If you think of your website simply as a brochure, it probably would have some products listed, a few nice, smiling stock photos, a host of pricing options, and some different ways to contact you.
Search engines have changed the game a bit when it comes to what information gets you found.
You’ll still want to present those brochure elements on your website in a digital-friendly fashion, but those types of elements tend to live at what is called the bottom of the funnel or the end of the buyers journey: people ready to buy, looking for the right partner and the right price.
When you think about strangers who may be experiencing a problem, but aren’t sure what the solution is quite yet – that’s where your online ecosystem can start to steer them in the right direction.
When you’re thinking about a content-rich website, that typically comes in the form of a web page or a blog post.
Imagine you have a marketing problem…
You’re the CEO of a company with 10 employees, you just got funding, and you’re trying to get the word out.
Let’s say you make exceptional payroll software – all those annoying headaches that come with making sure all 10 of your employees get the right amount of money each pay cycle, you take care of that for other companies.
The Start of the Buyer’s Journey or “The Top of the Funnel”
If you think about the start of the buyer’s journey, it’s not crazy to imagine that it begins by experiencing some sort of problem with payroll.
Think about search queries like:
- what to do when payroll goes wrong
- how can I safely automate payroll
- why does payroll take up so much of my time???
Formal keyword research can help unlock the queries you should write to, but just knowing the pain points is an excellent place to start when you think about funneling folks down to the products you offer.
Think about creating a few blog posts or web pages mean to answer some of the existential angst and questions behind those posts.
For example, a blog post on What to Do When You Miss a Pay Period is a good start to getting a stranger down the road to signing up for your excellent software and never missing a pay period again.
Rather than rushing them down to your ultra-competitive pricing, consider some middle of the funnel content or offers next.
The Middle of the Buyer’s Journey or “The Middle of the Funnel”
You’ve got the attention of the stranger. The hardest part’s over. Now it’s a question of getting the right information in front of the right prospects.
Providing some web pages, blog posts, whitepapers, PDFs, eReports, downloads, etc. – whatever format you think your buyer would prefer – that give away the knowledge they need to understand the landscape of solutions is the next step.
Back to the payroll example: now that these strangers-turned-leads have some basic understanding of their problem, it’s time to educate them on the different ways they could solve it.
Take a downloadable guide you could trade for their email through a form:
- 10 Steps to Never Worrying About Payroll Again
Maybe you outline a few different solution paths:
- Hiring an accountant of great repute.
- Choosing a seamless online platform that does it all for them (kind of like yours).
- Multiple sets of calendar reminders.
You get the idea.
The End of the Buyer’s Journey or “The Bottom of the Funnel”
Now we’re to the brochure content. They want a seamless digital platform, but they want a good provider.
It’s time for you to show why they should pick you.
Product pages on your website should be full of testimonials, positive reviews, value propositions, and reasons for them to pick you instead of Zenefits or Bob’s Payroll Service.
The most common mistake at this stage: thinking inside-out, instead of outside-in.
What do your buyers care about? That’s not necessarily the same thing as what features you just invested in building or what your corporate values are.
Address their concerns with the right messaging and you’ll see a much higher conversion rate.
What about the amount of content on my site?
Think buyer’s journey here.
Typically, the further down the funnel you entice a prospect, the more they’ll read from you. Quality over quantity is always the rule, and sometimes that means content of different lengths.
At the Start of the Journey
At the start, you’re dealing with strangers: visitors who have never heard of you, who landed on your site – this catch-all point in your online digital ecosystem – and want to learn more.
Pairing search queries with helpful blog content that quickly and efficiently addresses their problems is the way to go. Don’t overwrite and don’t oversell too early in the process.
In the Middle of the Journey
Finding ways to educate prospects with helpful digital resources, more blog content, or web pages probably means a bit more content. Use some industry benchmarks here.
- What do your competitors write?
- How long is it?
- Does it match the buyers you’ve come to know and love?
- Are there gaps in length that you can address?
- Are there gaps in content type or format you’re well positioned to provide?
If you know your prospects love video and no one else is doing it, maybe it should find its ways into your ecosystem and land on your website.
Near the End of the Journey
When you’re approaching the close, it’s important to present a strong case.
Why is your product competitive, what examples do you have as evidence (reviews, features, testimonials, pricing), and what types of messages will appeal most to the types of buyers you attract?
Metrics That Can Help You Determine If You Have the Right Content – and the Right Amount of Content
The wonderful thing about websites is that you can measure the output.
Once you’ve done a thorough v1 and your content has been out there for while, a few key metrics in Google Analytics and Google Search Console can guide things like content length and how well your audience is interacting with it:
- Entrances: Shows how many visitors began their session with that page. This is a helpful metric for top-of-the-funnel content meant to attract strangers. The higher number of entrances, the more visibility it has and visitors it entices to click.
- Pageviews: How many people visit a page. While pageviews for a single page can be helpful, pageviews are way more insightful with all your pages or blog posts side-by-side (compared to each other in the same time period). Measuring your top performing content against your struggling posts will shed some light on the range you’re working with – at least for now.
- Unique Pageviews: This measures how many unique visitors view one of your pages. Similar to pageviews, Google filters out the repeat visitors to give you a more accurate sense of how big your reach is vs. how adamant your followers are about coming back.
- Click-Through Rate (CTR): This measures how many visitors actually click on a link you provide in a blog post or on a page. These can range, but generally you want to see the time you invest in your content investment improve your CTR. That could mean better, more relevant offers, better offer placement, or simply improving the content around them.
- Bounce Rate: The percentage of visitors to a particular website who navigate away from the site after viewing only one page. If the goal of your blog post or your homepage is to get people to click further into your site (it probably is), then you’ll want to get this as low as you can. Industry benchmarks are worth looking up and factoring, but usually 50% or below is a healthy sign.
- Exit Rate: Similar to bounce rate, exit rate also measures the amount of people who leave your site after viewing a page. While bounce rate means they only looked at that one single page, exit rate means that this was the last page they looked at in a session (that could’ve included views of 50 pages).
- Average Time on Page: If you write a blog post with 2,000 words that gets really good near the bottom and the average time on page 27 seconds, you might want to rethink the content a bit. The same goes for a short post with a few links that has a 500 second average time on page.
The importance of double readership.
Some readers are meticulous and like to sit with every word on a page.
Some readers (most of us these days) skim headlines and text that jumps out to us in the body of a web page.
Appealing to both types of readers by telling a cohesive story in the headlines – one that gets more granular in the paragraph text – is a key component to writing well for the web.
Not a lot of users have patience for a poor web experience.
Your website is often the face of your organization — your content should be easily accessible and easily navigable. We’ve all been to a website on our phones that doesn’t respond well.
Frustration with UX is a quick way to lose traffic and contribute to a leaky bucket problem.
You can pour as many visitors as you want through sophisticated digital marketing, but if your website is a pain to use, you have a disconnect in your digital ecosystem.
Poorly constructed websites are guaranteed to be a barrier in driving conversions. Well-built web design and functionality is worth the investment.
Don’t forget to get found.
Improve your visibility by finding a partner who understands and can implement SEO (Search Engine Optimization) throughout your website.
2. Determine Which Social Media Platforms Are Right for Your Brand
Today’s online audiences enjoy being connected to the brands and digital experiences that stand out and align with their personal and professional values.
Consider your market, your product and your goals:
Which social media platforms will most effectively reach your market and give them access to information?
- Where do your prospects or customers hang out now, and where does the next generation of buyers spend their time?
- Which channels do you have the internal infrastructure to support or budget to contract out?
- How much content can you generate, and do you have the ability to pair it with high quality visuals?
Thinking through some basic social channel questions with an audience-first, organization-second mentality can help you make effective decisions on where to spend your time and energy.
How much or how little do you want to interact?
To grow your following on a conversational platform like Twitter, more frequent posting and agile responses are required, while success on platforms like Instagram typically relies on less frequent, more polished posts.
Watch how other organizations interact with their market.
You can learn a lot by watching the others in your space – and outside of it – interact with their audiences.
Keep an eye on the types of content they produce, the gaps they may be missing out on, and areas where you can add to the conversation in ways they can’t.
Take cues from their outcomes.
Organizations at different sizes tend to interact with their audiences in different ways.
If you’re an SMB, you may learn more from watching an enterprise company’s social channels than the shop next door. With a much higher audience, each post gets a much higher sample size and a whole lot more feedback.
Take a look at what gets the most engagement and what falls flat.
Continually assess what’s working and what’s not.
Your own social media performance is the ultimate indicator of what to do next. Keep trying different methods and benchmarked approaches until you find a mix that works for your audience.
Platforms now offer a consistent amount of basic metrics you can log in and look at that measure things like:
- Impressions: How many people saw your post.
- Clicks: How many people clicked on a link in your post.
- Engagements: How many people Liked, Commented, or Clicked on your post.
Most social algorithms reward higher levels of engagement with higher levels of visibility, so getting the flywheel going is the key.
Some paid spend at the start in the form of boosted posts may help you amplify your voice before you have a large following.
You may find that one platform is more effective than another. Consider dropping the platforms that become ineffective time wasters.
Whatever you choose, it’s vital to update frequently, which means having a dedicated, knowledgeable partner focused on the task.
Effective Social Channels Can Become Major Online Ecosystem Drivers
While email may always see the highest engagement rates (they know you, they subscribed to you, they may have even bought from you), the blend between advertising and organic posting on social media via features like boosted posts and pay-per-click has turned organic channels into a place where you can reach new audiences and tap into your existing followers.
3. Collect Emails & Treat Them Well
The more contacts you have, the broader your reach.
Email is consistently the highest performing digital marketing channel we interact with.
In addition to the standard newsletter signup option, there are lots of effective and creative ways to obtain emails through free template downloads, guides, one pagers, contests, giveaways, webinars, or partner marketing.
Depending on your industry, your audience may be a bit jaded about email signups — especially if they believe they’ll be bombarded constantly.
Remember that clothing company you bought one shirt from, then returned it, who then emailed you for the next twelve days in a row?
Thinking audience-first will help you avoid a world of unsubscribes.
The most common and effective way to get engaged email contacts is to trade them for value.
Helpful guides, download, white papers, webinars, ebooks, or templates – accessible through a gated form and free for the price of an email – can help you build a base of subscribers eager and willing to hear from you.
Legal precedents like GDPR and anti-SPAM laws all point towards a world where permission-based marketing is the gold standard; not only accepted, but required.
Focusing your efforts on attracting vs. interrupting pays off down the funnel.
Less emails like this:
And more emails like this:
Don’t over-email (or under-email), and remember to keep your emails direct, relevant, attractive, and simple.
Clear Opt Outs
Most email platforms like MailChimp or HubSpot will make this a requirement on your emails, but providing a clear way for users to unsubscribe is both a legal and brand necessity.
The reality is that you’ll lose some subscribers along the way. That’s okay – it means you’re focusing your energy and your emails on an audience that’s invested in your organization.
How Subscription Preferences Can Keep Your Email List Bigger & Healthier
Early on in the lifecycle of an email program, you’ll probably only send a few types of emails: company news, product news, maybe a newsletter on your industry or a specific thread of thought leadership.
The frequency probably matches the size of your staff or your contractor budget and you’re probably not worried about overwhelming your audience yet.
The tension is probably something more like: we haven’t sent our list of subscribers an email in two months… somebody write something, please!
As your email program matures and starts to align more heavily with your goals, and you’re able to staff up a bit, the volume of frequency and types of emails you can get out the door will probably increase.
Suddenly, you have a lot of news to share, plenty of eager marketers sensing the potential in this channel, and meticulous reporting on every subject line, open, and click.
A single subscriber receiving everything you have to offer can get overwhelming and become a quick path to unsubscribing.
Enter: subscription preferences – different categories of your email that users that manually opt in or opt out of.
You get to define the categories through your email platform and, as long as you’re diligent about planning your content and pairing it with your taxonomy, the right people will get the right emails at increasingly the right time…everything you need to bump up those conversion rates.
4. Create a Content Strategy & Plan
Creating consistent and engaging content can be a huge undertaking.
Between website messaging, email, and sharable social media copy, the sheer volume of content can quickly become impossible to keep up with.
There are a few considerations worth weighing that can help determine what your content strategy should look like:
What are your organization’s distinctives in your space?
In every industry, there are players who bring different unique value propositions to the table. For example, compare two big players in the email marketing space:
*Full transparency, we are certified HubSpot partners.*
- MailChimp: a free email tool for smaller users that can open a lot of complex marketing doors like automation and nurture sequencing and can scale with you as you grow.
- HubSpot: a sophisticated email marketing tool that’s actually a CMS, a CRM tool, a Sales tool, and one of the better platforms out there when it comes to reporting actionable marketing analytics.
MailChimp has a low barrier to entry. HubSpot has a higher barrier to entry (it costs more), but it’s meant to be an all-in-one marketing tool with powerful implications.
Both are built to make complex mass email sending and list management simple, tackle-able to-dos.
If you’re MailChimp and you’re new in town, you’ll probably focus a lot of your time and energy on providing small businesses with the tools they need to get an email program up-and-running.
MailChimp’s done this so well they even have a fully-grown resource hub for these types of personas.
On the other hand, if you’re HubSpot and you’re just starting out, you might focus on building resources and tools for marketers.
To even be a marketer, you’re probably working at a company or an agency that’s got a few more employees and a little more budget to invest.
HubSpot’s Academy and volumes of how-to blog posts helped define them as THE go-to place for marketers. Their content strategy became their growth and acquisition strategy and it helped them define the conversation in a whole industry.
What should my content strategy be?
Do you need to go out and hire five writers to constantly generate non-stop, keyword-rich content? Or throw all your budget at an agency to write a blog behemoth?
That entirely depends on your positioning within your market and how you plan to grow.
What about SEO? Don’t I have to be found organically?
Content is still a very viable growth tactic. Search engines value well-written, new, consistent content helpful to audiences and searchers, and owning some keywords through a well-thought-out SEO strategy can pay off exponentially.
However, if all your competitors are using that same tact and you’re late to the party, SEO might not be the best short-term growth strategy.
Companies can throw thousands of dollars trying to boost their organic results, but if you’re not providing something your competitors aren’t, something your audience is eager to find that’s not already out there, you might be running behind in the race for years.
SEO sounds great and all, but I need leads tomorrow.
If you’re more focused on short-term acquisition than long-term market dominance, your content strategy might shift to be entirely leads-focused.
That probably means investing time in building valuable downloads that you promote via paid advertising, a la a PPC approach on Facebook or Google.
The same principles still apply:
- Build valuable content that’s audience-focused
- Build different content for each stage of the funnel
- Look at the metrics and be agile – you may need to iterate a few times before you find something that converts
The stage just changes a bit. Rather than blog posts and web pages, the strategy shifts to paid ads that take users to landing pages and forms with resource downloads behind them.
The cost of your marketing now shifts from the labor of writing and optimizing, to labor, writing, optimizing, and paid ad spend.
Speed takes time and it tends to be more expensive.
How do I plan my content?
To keep your online ecosystem relevant and helpful to your audience, it’s important to have a content plan that keeps everything on track.
Content planning can come in many different forms, but a good benchmark is planning your content out in three month cycles.
Three months gives you an opportunity to stay on top of things like major industry shifts and changes (or a global pandemic) without being pressured to figure out what you’ll be saying a year from now.
You need to be nimble enough to pivot correctly from a messaging standpoint, but you also don’t want to be rushing to pick a topic and publish something the week it’s meant to go out.
Don’t fret – you’re not alone in the journey to creating excellent content and sharing your unique voice in a competitive market. We’ve created a Content Planning Template to help get you started.
5. Update Your Ecosystem Constantly
Being up-to-date is key. No, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should be on Tik Tok or drop everything and exclusively start Snapchatting.
It means that you should be as nimble and agile on your channels as your audience is. Fish where the fish are, the old saying goes.
That may mean you need to dial down your efforts on a social channel in exchange for a different one. Or that your lead-gen-focused PPC efforts may plateau and you need to invest in some steady SEO work to continue your wildly-profitable growth trajectory.
Your audience is the compass you need to follow. That’s true in marketing, that’s true in sales, and that’s true when it comes to defining yourself in a competitive space with an effective online ecosystem.