With the New Year just around the corner, many people are making their New Year’s resolutions. This doesn’t just apply to our personal lives, but also for businesses. Budgets for 2012 may be in the works, goals are being setbut what about your website? Have you decided what resolutions you want to make for your online marketing efforts? Since every business is different, a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work for everyone, but here are some things  you should consider before setting your Internet marketing goals for the New Year.

(Calvin and Hobbes is created by Bill Watterson and published by Universal Press Syndicate.)

Website Introspection

The first step to setting any goals for your site in the New Year is to analyze what you did the previous year(s). You can’t expect to follow through with unreasonable goals, so you need to determine what you can reasonably expect to aim for. If you want to increase your monthly visitors by 10% for example, there are a lot of things you should consider first.

1. How many visitors did you average per month last year?
2. How many visitors would it take to increase the average by 10%
3. What is the most efficient, yet effective way to sustainably achieve this?

There are many other questions to follow, but you get the point. You need to be able to analyze a lot of details about your site and sometimes take a step back and look at things from a different angle. With Google Analytics, you can see a lot of information about your site’s visitors, but it’s not always showing the whole picture. As useful as it may be to see why visitors are coming to your site, sometimes you need to know why visitors are NOTcoming to your site and this sometimes requires some outside help.

Getting an Outside Perspective

There are several things to examine about your site, including your site’s rankings in the 3 major search engines, website design, site architecture, usability and overall user experience, just to name a few. All of these have a common thread: human involvement. Not only will poor rankings, design, architecture, usability, and experience deter your human users from visiting your site, but it also requires a little human involvement to fix these issues.

Oftentimes, people who have become accustomed to their business’s website don’t see some of the obstacles that first-time visitors run into. We tend to look past the things that we see on a daily basis because they are not new. But for people who haven’t visited your site before, this is important information you should be concerned about. Empathize with your potential customers and take a moment to step into their shoes.

If it helps, you can try to employ the help of a friend to run a search engine query scenario. You can analyze your site from a technical perspective until the cows come home but not all search engine users possess the same technical approach that your current visitors may be willing to take. Many times, the issue of attracting new visitors is a matter of making your site easier to use for people who aren’t very tech savvy or may not have the same thought patterns as you.

Though targeting lingo isn’t always a bad idea, you should still consider targeting keywords for someone who doesn’t know much about your industry and wouldn’t know what the technical terms are. For example, not all search engine users will think to use the keyword “HVAC” and those that do are probably well-versed in the industry, whereas search engine users that aren’t familiar with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning lingo might be more inclined to look up “furnace repair,” ”ventilation installers,” or “air conditioning contractors” instead.

While running your scenario, make sure to answer these questions along the way.

1. Is your site indexed (can it be found) in the 3 major search engines?
2. Does your site rank for relevant keywords within the first two search engine results pages (SERPs) for each of the 3 major search engines?
3. Are many of your site’s visitors leaving your site after a very brief visit?

Your website is very much like a ship. If you want it to sail smoothly, you need to have a sound foundation (or hull) before you can build upon it. If you want to take your website any further, you’d best be patching up any holes that are working against you. Pouring more resources into your website to try to improve its performance won’t always make up for internal deficits just as adding more hands on deck won’t keep you from taking on water. Before you start putting more money towards your Internet marketing campaign, make sure you fix any problems that might be eating away at your existing efforts. You might be surprised what small on-site changes you can make to help increase your site’s visitors so you can reach your Internet marketing goals for 2012.

Looking Outside the Box

After you’ve finished auditing your website and analyzing your Internet marketing campaign from previous years, you can now direct your focus to some alternative strategies. In 2011 alone, we’ve seen huge changes from Google, including the infamous Panda update, Google Plus, and of course, Google’s encrypted search which prevents important organic keyword data from being picked up by Google Analytics from logged-in users. Though no one can be certain about what lies ahead in 2012, if there was anything that could be assumed, it is this: what worked in the past may be a good foundation, but in the ever-changing landscape of Internet marketing, adaptation is essential.

The goal of optimizing your website is to help it achieve its highest potential. Sometimes, this requires a little creativity and some out-of-the-box thinking. If you want to stand out from your competitors you have to be willing to implement a strategy that will set you apart. Analyzing your competitors is a good way to pick up on opportunities that your competitors may be harnessing, but try tapping into the opportunities that your competitors are NOTtapping into. While conducting your research, ask yourself these questions:

1. What am I doing right?
2. What am I doing wrong?
3. What might I be missing out on?
4. What are my competitors doing?
5. What are my competitors NOT doing?

More specific to Internet marketing, you might want to consider doing some research on what opportunities you can find about your competitors’ Internet marketing tactics, like:

1. Are your competitors employing the use of social media marketing to bring in new or repeat visitors?
2. Are your competitors making an effort to reach out to mobile users?
3. What incentives do your competitors offer for visitors that you might be missing out on?

Taking a Look at the Bigger Picture

Continuing with the nautical analogy, you can optimize your hull and try taking alternate routes, but at the end of the day, you just need to ensure that your ship comes in. For Internet marketing, this means taking a look at what provides the best bang for your buck and this means gathering the information from all of your effortsboth new and old. You can set yourself some goals on increasing visitors, but if those new visitors aren’t bringing in more conversions, it may not be worth the effort. This is where conversion rate optimization can help.

Once you have been able to find the most effective way to grab as many visitors as possible, the next “frontier” is to improve your ROI by increasing your site’s conversions, whatever you set them at. When your focus is too heavily based on specific metrics, it’s sometimes hard to get a bird’s eye view of what tactics are the most effective as well as being the most efficient.  Sometimes having the ability to determine what is the best use of your time and resources can help you identify what you need to focus on in order to bring in more converting visitors. Before you start cutting back on certain tactics, you need to first determine what is really worth putting on the chopping block.

When to Ignore the Data

Often times, we look a certain metrics with a specific sentiment. Time on Site = Good and Bounce Rate = Bad, but I’m afraid that in the analytics  realm, things aren’t always so black and white. If you’re looking too closely at lowering your bounce rate, for instance, you may not realize that a high bounce rate can actually occur because your visitors are finding what they need very quickly due to intuitive site architecture. Conversely, if the visitors that do come to your site are spending a long time on your home page, that might not be due to legitimate interest, but rather, a sign of confusion as your site’s visitors may be spending a lot of time on your home page trying to figure out how to navigate where they need to go.

Simple fixes such as employing an easy-to-use navigation bar or sidebar, as well as a search box to allow users to conduct a site search within your site’s header can help provide the ease of use that can make the difference between making a conversion and having your visitors leave to a competitor’s site. Going back to the first step of website introspection, take a close look at what might be preventing conversions and find ways to fix it. Conducting A/B testing can help you determine what changes are the most effective for getting conversions with your site’s visitors. This same strategy can be employed with your site’s listing in the SERPs.

Rankings, Say Hello to my Little Friend…Rich Snippets

If you find that your efforts for being ranked #1 for a specific phrase end up costing you more in the long run than if you ranked second or third, you might want to consider adjusting your strategy. Sometimes, being numero uno in the SERPs doesn’t always bring in the greatest number of conversions. With Google and Bing both utilizing markup for rich snippets in their results pages, it is important to consider the impact that this may have on your conversions. In a study conducted by Mirametrix and User Effect, where search engine users’ eye movement was tracked, more people were inclined to notice the listing that contained images or other forms of graphics, like star ratings and thumbnails. In the example below, they keyword “pizza cutters” was searched and a surprising majority of users were more focused on the second and third listings, as well as the shopping results which are accompanied by images.

Eyetracking SERPs from Mirametrix and User Effect Study - Products

In another example, the keyword “pizza” was queried, which resulted in more attention to the places listings, more specifically, the places listings at the top. Though the search engine users may not even click on the link to the corresponding pizza parlor’s website, that doesn’t necessarily mean that a conversion wasn’t made. If you employ offline marketing efforts such as blatant signage or radio or television advertising, this helps to provide users with a good idea about the location and/or other details about the business. They may not even click on the listing but rather head straight to your brick-and-mortar location.

Eyetracking SERPs from Mirametrix and User Effect Study - Places

Though both of these examples utilize Google products (Google Shopping Feeds and Google Places accounts), you can still gain more attention to your SERPs listings by utilizing schema markup to provide Google, Bing, and Yahoo! with important data that can enhance your listing  in the SERPs such as review ratings and image thumbnails, to name a few. Here’s an example of a query for “banana banana bread recipe” that employs both the ratings markup as well as thumbnails.

Although this listing appears at the top of the SERPs, given all of the detailed information provided in the listing, it would be pretty safe to assume that despite the fact that the top-ranking recipe for banana bread takes over an hour to make, it is bound to get more visitors than the fifth listing that promotes itself as taking only 10 minutes to make. It is this dominant exposure that can help your listing stand out against your competitors which can help you reach whatever goals you plan on setting. Whether you plan to increase visitors, decrease bounce rate, or get on board with more social networking, you still have some time to narrow down what matters most to you. Now that you’ve got a few things to consider setting goals for, get that pen and paper (or digital notepad) and start crafting those Internet marketing resolutions for 2012.

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