I find myself giving a lot of advice to my international WWF colleagues about where to start when designing a digital strategy and getting it implemented, so I thought I would share some of those learning’s here.

Always start with data

Data is your best friend, in marketing in general, but the data is so rich in online that it really leaves no room for misinterpretation.

Start by getting your hands on as much data as possible. Look at the insights reports your social network pages provide. Review the email subscription lists and reporting. If you have a Google Adwords paid search campaign, pull these reports. Get access to your companies analytics login (Omniture, WebTrends, Google Analytics) and absorb yourself in the trends of the past 2-3 years. Find out what keywords are bringing users to your website and what keywords are converting best. What are you most popular entry pages and understand your bounce rate.

If you do not have analytics implemented on your website and for your online advertising (search and display) campaigns, make sure you create a Google Analytics account immediately and start tracking. Then wait 3 months and review the data before building your strategy.

You can probably spend 3 months pouring over the data but be careful not to get too deep as you may never emerge. The most important thing is to make educated decisions based on the data you have access to. Choose your channels best suited to your needs based on your objectives and goals and use the data to identify the gaps or digital areas you need to put some work into optimising to improve the performance.

This of course gives you some good insight into your own website and how effective it is at achieving your brand’s objectives. You need to fix the basics on your own site. You can have the best digital strategy and online campaign in the world, but if you’re pushing users to a bad website, with out-dated content and a poor user experience, you will get nowhere. Online advertising and marketing will drive the users to your site, but they can’t convert them to sales, customers, supporters or donors. Your website is responsible for the conversion.

SWOT and competitive analysis

While you’re looking at your own data, you should be watching your competitors also. Depending on the digital scale of your organisation or company, you may have access to paid subscriptions and further industry analytics such as Nielsen Online or Hitwise Market Intelligence or Roy Morgan data. Use anything you have at your disposal to monitor your competitors activity and what reactions they get to their messages and campaigns.

Understand what keywords your competitors are ranking for in Google’s organic search and look at the SEO on their website and try to improve. Bruce Clay says its about being the “least imperfect” – all you need to do is be better than your competitors. Monitor their paid search campaigns and try to identify their bidding strategy. Are they bidding to be #1 for their head keywords or are they optimising their bids to conserve their budget but remain in the top 3 paid listings so that they sometimes show up above the organic listings?

Use your paid search campaign (search creative) and email marketing (subject lines) to test messages and find out which phrases get the best click through rates (CTR%) versus the messages that convert best.

Once you have a good grasp of what your competitors are doing and have dived deep into your own data, you’re in a pretty good position to do a SWOT analysis on your own brand as well as your key competitors.

A SWOT analysis is identifying your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Once you know this for yourself and your competitors, you can make better decisions about where your niche may be and where you can get cut-through.

Identifying your digital channels

Some online channels are known to convert better than others. There are also digital channels that are known to be better at driving traffic but not necessarily completing the acquisition and there are others that are used for brand awareness. There is no formular, every business will either win or fail based on a number of factors that must all work in tandem to achieve the best outcome but there is some fairly strong guidance I can provide.

Building digital strategies requires a good website, data analysis and mobile

Building digital strategies requires a good website and data analysis to identify the correct channels to achieve your goals

Email – Swapping or buying email lists is a quick way to increase the traffic to your site and drive sales or sign ups to something. But I must tell you that email generally get a lower quality user or customer as a result.

Paid search – Bidding for keywords that are important for your brand can ensure that you show up on Page 1 of Google’s search results if you can’t rank organically. Paid search also provides you with invaluable learning’s and data. Less than 1% of people click on paid search ads but it can also be used as a strategy to block your competitors. It has some brand relevance as 50% of internet sessions start with Google.

Organic searchSearch engine optimisation is one of the most cost effective forms of online marketing that you can do. It can be incredibly complex and requires a business to invest in a strategic resource that is constantly testing, optimising and improving your website to ensure you rank high on Google’s search listings. If you have a good SEO person, it will cost very little outside of the head count.

Analytics and analysis – If you can invest in an analyst, it will be the best investment you ever make. Having a switched on analyst can save you from making mistakes, it will streamline your online marketing and save you time and money in the long term. Analysts will make sure that you are always getting the highest return on investment (ROI) for your marketing spend. Of course every digital marketing person should try to be their own analyst as well, so as not to get complacent.

Display advertising, affiliates and performance networksOnline advertising and cost per click (CPC$) or cost per acquisition (CPA$) media buys are important to a well rounded digital strategy and online campaign but they will tend to eat into your budget. You can still achieve excellent results using search and email and you will most likely yield a much lower CPA. Display advertising is great for branding and for increasing the frequency of your brand/ message being in front of users. It will also compliment the other channels. Cross-channel marketing should deliver the best results overall but you may need to be more patient and your tracking needs to be spot on.

This also includes video, behavioural targeting, contextual placements etc.

Social media and social networking – I cannot say with absolute confidence that social cannot drive conversions, but this has not ben my experience, YET. Social media is about listening to what people think about your brand and building relationships with them. As we cannot export our ‘likes’ or ‘fans’ or community from social media, we cannot emphatically know if they are existing customers or supporters or prospective customers. Therefore we have to treat them as though they are all new to our brand.

Social is incredibly important moving forward and should be used as a testing platform and customer service channel. In my opinion.

Mobile – as I’ve said in previous posts, mobile will be a sure thing in the future. For now, its great for search, specifically local search. There have been many case studies of successful mobile advertising campaigns and apps have proved to be an incredibly lucrative business for some, but we haven’t even seen the tip of the iceberg yet on mobile.

Well, I hope that has helped at least a few of you in knowing where to start when embarking on building a digital strategy. I haven’t even touched on the technology on the website/ client end. This is what I’ve been working on for the past 18 months of my life, so I need to try and distill it down for you.

Please leave me a comment if you want more information on any particular channel or if you feel I’ve left something out. This post has been written off the top of my head, so it could definitely benefit from some future optimisation.