Get the Most From Web Marketing - Ways to Ensure Your Company Rises to the Top

By: Sarah Carlye

In an effort to reach local and regional customers, U .S. companies spend more than $100 billion annually on advertising in local newspapers and magazines, local TV, and direct mail. But according to a November 2008 report by research firm Sterling Market Intelligence, 86 percent of Internet users now search for local products and services online, with 90 percent of those searchers purchasing those products or services offline.

As consumers shift from traditional media consumption to the online world, senior living providers will find significant opportunities to both measure and improve the efficiency of their local advertising.

If you were trying to reach local customers in 1969, your options were limited to only a handful of media formats. Today, consumers have access to more than 30 different types of media-from satellite TV to text messaging to YouTube to Facebook. With the multitude of ways consumers access information, advertisers must more carefully quantify marketing and advertising expenditures. Fortunately, because much of the new media is digital, it`s fairly easy to track and measure.

To achieve success in an online marketing program, you have to pay close attention to what is working and what isn`t. A simple five-step process can help ensure success and provide a solid picture of what you need to do to capture consumer attention and increase occupancy in your communities:

Step 1. Drive

The first step in a successful online marketing program is to drive prospects to your Web site. The most effective methods for making this happen are search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO). When someone searches for "assisted living" in the city where you have a community, does your community appear in the search results? In a well-managed program, that community should appear on the first page of search results, making it easy for consumers to find and get directly to your Web page:

Sponsored listings (pay per click, or PC ). These are usually the top three listings along with the listing down the right-hand side of the search results page. These ads are how Google grosses more than $5 billion a quarter in revenue.
Maps. This is, as it sounds, the map with flags indicating local businesses and their locations in Google results. It is important that your community is listed within the top 10 map results.
Organic (free listings). These are the results that appear below maps and can include thousands of results. In order to achieve success, you should be on the first page of results. Data shows that 60 percent of searchers still consistently click in the organic search results.

Step 2. Engage

Once you`ve attracted prospects to your site, you must then engage them to take action and move the transaction forward offline. Because the Internet is becoming the de facto first source of reference for many consumers, a professionally designed site with pertinent information and appealing photos of your community is paramount. Once you have their attention, you have to make it easy for them to take the next step. If your goal is to get them to pick up the phone and call you, your site needs to push them to do so with a large, prominent phone number. If you want them to schedule a tour of your community, the "schedule a tour" option should be front and center. Whatever step you want consumers to take, an appropriate call to action is incredibly important.

Step 3. Track

Trackability is where Internet marketing separates itself from traditional media by providing the data needed to form an accurate analysis of your return on investment. To leverage these benefits, your site needs to be designed and developed to track the origin of each of your visitors and leads, as well as each of your calls to action. The easiest way to do this is using unique call-tracking numbers so you know exactly the ad source of each call. If you are also capturing Web forms (such as for scheduling a tour), the forms must be tagged to easily recognize the visitor`s origin.

Step 4. Measure

Once you are tracking the source of your leads, it becomes possible to measure which leads are increasing occupancy. This is beneficial for many reasons, not the least of which is money savings. Simply put, without measurement, you`ll waste money. Tracking move-ins back to where they originate enables you to measure the cost-per-customer acquisition (CPA) for each of your marketing and advertising initiatives. From there, it becomes a simple math problem to measure the cost-per-resident rate and the source(s) of the highest quality leads (and subsequent residents). This tells you exactly what is working and what isn`t.

Step 5. Optimize

The final step is probably the most simple, given the correct information. Once you have tracked, measured, and ranked your advertising and marketing efforts, push your budgets toward the efforts that will give you the best bang for the buck. With many senior living providers looking to add accountability to their marketing programs, it is increasingly important to optimize budgets. By knowing exactly which of your marketing sources is working the best, you can easily optimize and focus those waning dollars and efforts.

The traditional model for developing local, qualified leads has worked to date. But with prospects doing their research online 16 percent more than they did just two years ago, there is an undeniable shift from traditional media to online. Being aware of this shift allows savvy senior living providers to leap ahead of the competition by efficiently and cost-effectively measuring and managing local advertising efforts.

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