When it came to defining and communicating a brand online, then using it to build a business, I struggled with what to do, and in what order. Even with paid training and coaching, it’s been like drinking from a firehose.
There are so many things to do, and so many people encourage differing priorities!
I would have appreciated a brief, simple, description of lessons learned around online marketing tools, so I’m providing one for you! I’ve also published lessons learned around social media marketing, and eventually I’ll publish a description of lessons learned around WordPress Plugins.
I’m not proposing to tell you which tools you need. That’s up to you. I’ll say what I know that may be useful to you as you consider whether or not to explore a relationship with a specific business.
How I Choose The Tools I Use And Rate
I sign up for almost every web property I come across, and I usually sign up for their mailing list, unless it’s clearly just not a fit. There are many I’ve signed up for, then never returned after that first visit, despite their ongoing marketing emails. With each new sign-up, I explore how a business has designed and built their messaging, home page, login, security, and basic features. Of course, eventually I unsubscribe from any mailing list where the underlying subject or tool just isn’t for me.
How To Interpret These Lessons Learned
I’ve ranked tools from most useful to least, as I define it for my own purposes. Your mileage may vary. These are the tools I use and don’t use. For example, you may not choose to use an email opt in tool (I don’t recommend it, now that I’ve had one), though the five users who signed up via Sumo and the 8 who signed up via WordPress.com may be my only authentic followers to date!
My commentary is my experience only, and by no means a complete, formal review of the entirety of each tool or all its capabilities. Nor is it a review of any given tool class. This is essentially a list of the tools I’ve deployed and how I’ve used them, including my view of whether there’s value there. However, my experience was enough to drive the learning and/or behavior I describe. I use any tool long enough to get value out of it and continue using it, or to conclude it’s not a fit. The most full-featured, great product may receive low marks from me if its installation or configuration or use is not easy or intuitive, or if its documentation or support is poor. You may love one I hate — let me know!
Some Questions I Ask As I Consider The Value Or Usefulness Of A Tool
- Is it intuitive?
- Is is useful to me?
- Who would use it?
- Is it a premium model (I’m the customer), free to me (I’m the product), or is it a freemium model (I can pay for more than the minimum features offered with a free product)?
Internet Marketing Lessons Learned
No online marketing tool review could be complete without considering WordPress. Finally got my handful of articles moved from Blogger and WordPress.com. You’re looking at the result.
What I learned:
- Like Medium or Blogger, this is a great place to share your thoughts. It also has good supporting and social features, including the ability to sell ads on your “blog”.
- All the advice I paid for suggested creating my own hosted site, so I did that.
- Like anything that’s infinitely customizable, the hurdle here is high. You can do anything you want, but you’ll spend a lot of time and maybe money learning how to do it the way you want.
- There are other more “out of the box” simple blogging and web development solutions below and on the web. Each has limitations.
- Build out the web site and create the blog as just one section of it. Pages will include About, Blog, Services, and maybe links to key social media pages like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
- Create funnels:
- Email or social media to
- product announcement pages, to
- application, to
- possibly interviews, to
- sign up pages, to
- online courses or real-life services.
- Get scientific about who would be interested in my blog posts and how to put my blog posts in front of them. Until now, my social strategy and blog post sharing has been just to share my new posts with my existing audience, which mostly is more like Twitter Followers than Fans.
- For an article about running, where can I put the article in front of runners?
- For an article about hernias, where can I put the article in front of surgeons or people who’ve had hernias or people who are considering surgery?
- Move articles from LinkedIn to this blog.
I created an account during the transition from blogger to WordPress, so I could keep the discipline of writing regularly. Ultimately I moved all my writing to my WordPress.org hosted site. WordPress.com’s parent, Auttomatic, has several helpful plugins I use. They help with things from site security to backup to sharing blog posts on social media channels.
What I learned:
- Like Medium or Blogger, this is a great place to share your thoughts. It also has good supporting and social features, including the ability to sell ads on your “blog”, and enable people to follow your blog by email or online notifications.
- All the advice I paid for suggested creating my own hosted site and building my mailing list.
- Clean up all the old blog post detritus from various WordPress accounts and point them to my WordPress.org site.
- Continue to use relevant plugins.
This is a great little online blog like blogger and WordPress.com. The sharing, following, and feedback mechanisms are simple, intuitive, and a pleasure to use. I used to share my blog posts here via a WordPress.org plugin which has long since gone unsupported and unuseable by Medium, who went to a subscription model and realized they didn’t want to refer traffic away from Medium. Even though I haven’t posted anything on Medium for a long time, I still see a fair amount of traffic on Medium.
What I learned:
- I like Medium as a place to be entertained by smart writers publishing good content. Your mileage may vary.
- All the advice I paid for suggested creating my own hosted site.
- Continue sharing new posts to Medium, even though I will need to copy them manually.
- A “blog” site that enables you to share just about any kind of file. Many people use it like a social media site to publish images, very much like Instagram.
- I share new blog posts here through a WordPress plugin. Otherwise, I spend very little time here.
What I Learned:
I can up my game on Tumblr by posting a lot more of all kinds of content, and engaging more.
I don’t see a business use in this for me yet, since I still think of it a log like I think of Instagram, and I don’t think of Instagram a lot like a place authors market themselves. Do you see a use I’m missing? I’ll post more general content like photos as I post them to Instagram/Facebook/Twitter. Let’s see what more engagement gets me. If nothing else, I’ll learn something.
This is another site, like Medium, that has adopted a subscription model, and which offers you, the author, compensation for publishing your work in their ‘walled garden’. It’s worth looking into if you’re a prolific author, especially if you bring some of your own audience with you. I don’t have personal experience with this platform, but I’ve been intrigued by Medium’s move to a paid subscription model and willingness to compensate authors for their contribution. I think this is worth looking into, for the right author.
Branded.me (now Remote.com)
Was once a cute, simple website builder. Will auto-populate your web site with data from your LinkedIn profile. Now it’s morphed into a job search site for people who want remote jobs. Your web site is now your professional profile on this job hunting site.
What I learned:
All advice suggested moving to a model where I control the resources (WordPress.org). This is now a site with data about me, but my intention is everything points to my WordPress blog (this site), not the other way around. Branded.me’s business model was partly based on getting you to point all your traffic at it. I don’t know if that’s still the case, now that they’ve rebranded as Remote.com.
Ensure this points to tools I actively manage. No further activity anticipated, except as looking for remote work is involved. I may kill this mention of me as it may eventually result in brand confusion. On the other hand, it likely gets so little traffic it won’t matter.
Blogging site with a simple, intuitive user interface. Like most things produced by Google, this just works. Easily. No support necessary. Documentation included. Intuitive.
What I learned:
All advice I paid for suggested moving to a model where I control the resources (WordPress.org). I’ve since forwarded all contents and no longer use this site.
No further activity anticipated.
Hosting is only required if you choose to publish on a WordPress.org website. If you’re sure you’ll be publishing on hosted WordPress, consider the following for hosting your site.
Web hosting. Highly rated in reviews by people who objectively consider multiple hosting companies.
What I learned:
- Inexpensive, highly reliable, easy to set up and use.
- Straightforward to sign up, transfer your site, and configure.
- Fast, competent support at all hours of the day and night. Very low or no wait time.
- Free backups.
Continue using SiteGround.
Heavily promoted hosting service.
What I learned:
- While everyone and their mother promotes BlueHost, it’s interesting how many don’t actually use it to host their own properties.
- Other than their rich Affiliate Marketing program, I couldn’t find a lot of reasons to stay a BlueHost customer.
- I found many reasons to stop being a BlueHost customer.
- Documentation and user interface insufficient to complete basic setup and configuration.
- Usually waited on hold dozens of minutes, or it took several hours for support to get back to me. They may work 24/7, but they weren’t available when I wanted them.
- The most satisfying part of the relationship was the ease with which I got my last refund, after I waited for their response, and after I contacted them twice to tell them they hadn’t refunded the entire amount they should.
- I cancelled and got a refund inside of the 30 day refund period.
Like hosting, this is mostly only necessary if you intend to host your own WordPress blog. If you wanted to have your own pseudonymous or other custom email account, this is also necessary.
For ease of use, most places that will sell you hosting or email services will also offer you the opportunity to buy, or even get for free, a custom domain. Consider that opportunity for ‘one-stop shopping’ also, if you are looking to reduce complexity.
Cheap domain registration.
What I learned:
- Even in domain registration, there’s product and service differentiation.
- Some companies charge for services NameSilo will give you for free, e.g. domain privacy.
Move domains from other companies to NameSilo or Google.
I use GoDaddy for Domain Registration and Office 365 accounts. I used to use it for hosting.
God bless GoDaddy! Any web services company doing so much business it can afford to sponsor a NASCAR driver is a company I want to own.
As a customer, I’m lukewarm.
They’ve been in business since before there were many standards like cloud apps and WordPress. Much of their early software was custom, and that was part of their appeal and marketing. Now their customer software is quirky and idiosyncratic.
Much of their early marketing was edgy and amusing. That hasn’t changed, and certainly drives them a lot of customers that never bother to learn about their cheaper competitors who offer better service and value.
GoDaddy seems to have changed their business model from writing and distributing their own custom software, to selling branded services like WordPress hosting and Office365 hosting.
What I Learned:
- If you want a single supplier that can offer you many or all the services you need, under one user interface, this may be a good bet for you.
- Not often the best value for money.
- Upsell is so blatant and ubiquitous, it interferes with me doing what I need to do.
- Seems like I research a Domain Name, don’t buy, come back the next day and it’s taken. Who’s monitoring my research and then buying the domain name?
- GoDaddy recently acquired me as a Office365 customer from a smaller, cheaper, no-name competitor that had lower prices and better service, then they immediately tried to upsell me and raise my price. I already had another Office365 subscription with GoDaddy, so now GoDaddy has all my Office 365 business.
- Every time I call them for help with my Office365 account, they tell me they can’t support it because they don’t write the software: Microsoft does. When I’ve reached out to Microsoft, they say I need to get help from the company I pay for the service. These are not rocket science requests, but they are difficult enough or poorly documented enough I have no recourse but to contact support. I rarely contact support if I can find an answer in documentation or via a search engine.
- Move domains to NameSilo or Google.
- Move Office365 accounts to GoogleSuite.
This tool inspired me to write this online marketing tool review blog post. This amazing service enables users to track all online mentions of themselves. It only uses results from Google searches, not results from other search engines. I have a paid account, and I no longer recall what it gets me that a free account does not. They’ve slowly morphed into a service that monitors your online security and privacy, much like the services that monitor for your information online.
- They put too much emphasis on “high risk” mentions of “me” online. Too bad they only use a match on either first name or last name as a “mention”. I spend too much time notifying the site that a mug shot that doesn’t look like me — at all, with a match only on first or last name (not both) isn’t me.
- The site also flags any mention, by me, in social media, of any potentially questionable terms, regardless of context. Then it asks me to affirm whether this is a risky use of the term that could affect my online reputation. It re-flags the same posts over and over instead of keeping a record of them, the way it does my search engine ranks. BrandYourself flags terms like “weed”, “alcohol”, and “sex” even if used in the context of lawn care, first aid, and determining the gender of a puppy.
What I learned:
- I’m blessed to have a unique name. For a long time, I could easily control half of the top 10 spots in a Google search of my name. There are a lot of young people with my name. They’re rapidly coming online, and competition for high-ranking results in searches of “Dylan Cornelius” is intensifying. There’s another Dylan Cornelius right here in Austin, and he inspires me to follow my dreams. He’s a more advanced social marketer than me. You can even pay him to play video games!
- Most negative information online associated with a person, is placed there by them. To get big or important enough to have someone making negative references is to have really made a mark! Libel is a crime, so most sophisticated people and organizations will avoid making negative statements about others publicly.
In the final analysis, this has mostly been an ego or vanity thing. I can always just look at the first 100 Google results for my name if I want to see the stuff that ranks. For that matter, I can search on any key term and look at the first 100 Google results the same way.
In my opinion, you will not need a mailing service until you have a product you intend to sell.
Email list management, campaign management, and opt in forms. Free up to 2,000 records. This is a “multi-tool” type of supplier: you can manage many elements of list management, opt in, forms, and campaigns here.
What I learned:
- It’s easy to sign up.
- No matter how you manage your email list and your emailing, you may soon spend as much time crafting and managing email campaigns as you spend writing blog posts and other communications. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t a predictable activity when I installed WordPress. It’s marketing! Plan to begin a whole new activity stream writing emails, and defining and managing campaigns, in addition to the writing you do for blog posts, books, or whatever other types of writing you do.
Define campaigns and sequences. Implement them.
- New subscribers.
- Campaigns per topic of interest and product.
This will not be necessary until you have an email service.
Email opt in forms. I use the free version.
What I learned:
- Managing this metric (how many web site visitors sign up at my site), is an optimization a new blog doesn’t need. These are more important metrics to manage. Once you get traffic to a double or triple digit number daily, then worry about optimizing this metric.
- Who is my audience and how do I reach them?
- How do I get my audience to my blog?
- How many people are coming to my blog daily/weekly/monthly/per post?
- It just worked. Straightforward to install and configure.
- It seems to slow down my web page loads.
- Requires manually transferring email list to MailChimp or other list management or CRM system.
- Understand my audience for each post, and how to reach them. Reach out to them where they are, consistently, for each post.
- Write compelling content that attracts and retains visitors.
- Get visitors to double digits and beyond daily. Initial benchmark goal is 500 daily to begin ads.
- Automate transfer of new list members to MailChimp or other CRM system.
- Understand the page load impact (if any). Consider moving this feature to MailChimp or elsewhere.
Email opt in forms. Michael Hyatt’s team referred me here. They say he uses it. There is no free version.
What I learned:
- This seems like a fairly narrow space, but there’s competition even here.
- The reference client promoted broadly on OptinMonster (Social Media Examiner) must have a HUGE list and traffic if they added 95,000 subscribers in 7 months!
Consider this as an alternative to Sumo or MailChimp opt in forms when I have enough traffic and volume to optimize this metric. See more in my MailChimp tool review.
Consider And Act
- Do you have a different experience of one or more of the above? Please share!
- What other online marketing tools have you used successfully? What results did you achieve?
- Are there other online marketing tools you hate? Why?
- What other online marketing tools would you recommend I consider using?
- Would you be willing to share a online marketing tool review for me to host on this site?
- Is there a tool you’d like to see me test and write up in another online marketing tool review?
- Watch for my Social Media Marketing Lessons Learned, coming soon.
- Watch for my Favorite WordPress Plugins Review, coming soon.