Don't just give it away...

A question I'm most often asked by our advertising partners is, "How can I make my online advertising more effective and increase the number of sales leads I get?" This can be a difficult question, but one answer that has proved successful for many of our vendors is this: Find something of value or interest to your audience and share it with them -- but don't just give it away.

One of the most powerful features of the Web is the ability to feed prospects and potential customers as much information as they can digest without the additional costs associated with print or other media channels. The people who are most successful in their online marketing efforts embrace this concept and use it to full advantage when prospecting for new customers.

We have a saying inside our website that we constantly remind ourselves of, which is "Content is king." Quality content is the foundation of our site's success, and will always be the reason why readers keep coming back. Our advertising partners can capitalize on the desire for quality content, while increasing the effectiveness of their marketing efforts, by using interesting content as an incentive to learn more about their products or services.

Trading information
Every business has some knowledge or information that would be of interest to potential customers. Chances are, this information can be bundled in such a way that you can pique the interest of your audience, so that they will give you some information about themselves in order to learn something from you. This is a true win-win for both sides -- your readers get something of interest and of value to them, and you get the contact information you need for future follow-up.

An additional benefit is having readers view you as an expert in the area you're discussing. If people are coming to you to learn, and you sell your product solutions through an educational process, then you're on your way to making another sale.

What kind of content?
If you have case studies, customer testimonials, market research, business rules of thumb or tools (online estimators, spreadsheets, etc.), then you're well on your way. If you don't, it's time to start thinking about what kinds of information you have (or can create) that would be of interest to potential customers and that can be packaged for the Web. This can take some time, but the dividends can be well worth the effort.

Putting it together
The next step is to take this information and write a brief abstract that outlines what the person can learn from the article without giving them all the details. Another way to think about it is that a good abstract should be like a good movie preview. It hits the highlights, gives a quick overview of what the movie is about, and leaves you wanting to learn more -- all without giving away the plot.

Now that you have the articles and the abstracts written, it's time to make sure you understand the click-path that people will take to get to your content and articles. A typical click-path would be:

  • People see the banner ad and click on it. The banner ad link takes them to …

  • Figure 1: Sample banner ad. Click for larger image.

  • A landing page that has the abstracts and article title for one or more articles. Once a reader clicks on the article they're interested in, that leads them to...

    Figure 2: Landing page showing a featured article with additional articles grouped by audience.
    Click for larger image.

  • A request form that they need to fill out to get the whole article. One thing to note here is that people are far more likely to fill out the form correctly and give you valid contact information if you tell them exactly how you will use their contact information. By putting this on the form, you'll allay their fears about how you will use their information, and let them know that no other company will get their e-mail address or contact information.

    Figure 3: Lead collection page showing article abstract and lead collection form.
    Click for larger image.

Now that you understand your click-path, you can create banner ads with headlines designed specifically to get people to learn more about your content, and have the confidence of knowing that you'll be prepared to capture their valuable lead data.

Once you have the lead information, it's important that you acknowledge the user within the first 48 hours. A simple e-mail notification could say: "Thanks for taking the time to download our article. We hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions about anything you read or want to learn more, please visit us online or contact…." It's simple, acknowledges the person's interest, and let's them know that you are interested in them.

Now that you've got it
What's next? The answer is "It depends." Getting the leads is just the first step in the sales process, and every business follows up prospects differently. In short, integrate your new leads into your sales process so that you can begin following up with them in an orderly manner. It's important to follow up quickly -- the faster you do, the better results tend to be.

Trading for success
Creating quality content takes time and hard work, and may even require spending time with your customers to understand what topics they're interested in, but the potential dividends are worth the effort. Take the time to begin creating a library of quality content -- but don't just give it away. Use it as an incentive for people to give you their contact information. If your content is good and people perceive the trade of their contact data for your information as a fair one, then you'll be very pleased with the results.

Tell me about it
Let me hear from you. If you have any success stories, tips and tricks that have worked for you, or things you've learned not to do, send them to me and I'll compile the responses to share in a future article.