Great marketing begins long before the first ad is shown.

To build a robust and effective marketing machine, you will first need a strong foundation: a great product, superior user experience, sufficient discoverability, and a clear conversion funnel. Then (and only then) do we recommend layering on paid advertising and optimizing your budget allocation.

Here’s a checklist to see where you stand.

Step 0. Is your product as great as it can be?

Whatever your company is selling, it’s important that you first get the offer right. It should be competitive in the target market (whether on quality, price, service level, or something else).

It’s critical that this is done first – even the best marketing won’t save a bad product or service from eventual failure.

Once you’re satisfied with the offering, it’s time to address the following:

Step 1. How easy is it for people to understand your offering?

  • Is it easy to navigate your site (or app)?
  • Does everything work as expected?
  • Are users finding the information they are looking for?
  • Is your overall messaging clear and consistent across all pages?

This is the first step in your marketing (the basics).

At minimum, your site should be working without errors across all browsers and devices. Next, you should consider usability and user experience – do users have to think hard to find the information they are looking for? How many clicks does it take to actually buy your product?

Usability is really, really important! Here’s a quick summary of Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug (arguably the best book on the subject):

“Resist adding things to solve problems. That’s rarely the answer.”

Use conventions so that people don’t have to think even for a millisecond.

Aim for self-evident. Self-explanatory if that doesn’t work.

People glance or scan a page, quickly looking for what they need. They don’t read everything.

  • Use clear visual hierarchy
  • Use conventions
  • Make sure the page content is in clearly defined areas
  • Make obvious what’s clickable
  • Minimize noise, omit needless words/happy talk/instructions

Tabs must be real if you use them – where front color is connected to content. Logo (when clicked) leads to home page.

The word they click on should be the title of the destination page they hit – continuity!

Every page should answer these questions immediately:

  • What site is this? What page am I on?
  • What are the major site sections?
  • What are my options at this level?
  • Where am I in the scheme of things?
  • How can I search?

Have a tagline next to the site logo. 6-8 words. Specific. Meaningful and clear.

Put a welcome blurb in the top part of the page. 1-2 sentences. Important words bolded. Test variants of this.

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Step 2. What does your target audience look like?

  • What are the demographics of your target market?
  • Is your content optimized to rank highly for the right search keywords?
  • Are you taking advantage of the right social media channels?

After you have ensured that your site is running smoothly and everything can be clearly understood, it’s time to set things up so that people in your target market can easily find you. Your site should be optimized for discoverability on the major search engines (Google and Bing). Once you have an understanding of the relevant demographics, you should be present on all the websites and networks they commonly use.

Step 3. How is your conversion funnel being tracked?

  • Are you properly tracking site activity (visits, page views, drop off, etc.)?
  • Is there a clear path to conversion on the site?
  • Are you tracking the important purchase funnel metrics?

Once you have decent site traffic (or app usage), you can begin to optimize the purchase funnel.

We recommend setting up analytics on all major sections of your site, so that you can monitor user flows from first visit to conversion.

Next, get a solid understanding of your baseline conversion rate. At this point you can begin testing different site variations to reduce bounce rate and maximize conversion rate.

Step 4. Which paid advertising techniques are best for your business?

  • How are your search ad campaigns structured?
  • Is the ad copy optimal?
    Are you making effective use of site retargeting?
  • Which channels are most profitable?
  • Is your brand advertising reaching the right people?
  • Is the inventory brand-safe?

At this point, you have a very good idea of your on-site conversion rate, and are confident that your purchase funnel is well optimized. If you also know the average Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), you can start buying ads to drive additional traffic to your funnel.

But where to begin, and how to measure success?

We can help you understand which advertising channel is right for your business. For more information, please see the home page.

Step 5. How effective are your ads? Are you wasting your budget?

  • Are your display campaigns having any impact?
  • What’s the % lift vs. no ads at all?
  • How are you measuring performance between vendors and across channels?
  • Do you have a clear idea of how to allocate each additional dollar of marketing budget?

This is where things get tricky – and much more interesting. Once your marketing budget gets serious, it’s critical to understand whether you’re effectively allocating ad spend. To put it bluntly: where can you get the lowest CPA (Cost Per Acquisition)? How does CPA differ across channels?

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If you are able to answer these questions with any degree of accuracy, you will be farther along than most!

PS. We’ve compiled a list of the best tools to help you understand and optimize your marketing funnel. Check it out here: Useful Advertising Tools and Resources.