by Brian Clarey

When you start talking about digital marketing, their eyes go glassy.

They know everybody is doing it — US companies spent $57.3 billion on their digital efforts in 2014 — and that they should be, too. It’s relatively affordable, eminently quantifiable and, for many businesses, highly effective.

But digital marketing is like a really good Chinese buffet: There’s a lot to take in; it can be very confusing; and they might not like everything they put on their plates.

There’s a lot more to it than just placing ads on websites — though web tiles and banners are perhaps the most basic expression of digital marketing. They work just like a display ad in a newspaper, except the user can click directly on the ad and get to the point of sale. These are great — if, that is, your website has a point of sale. A web ad would be a waste of money for a company like Beat Media, which owns Triad City Beat, because we don’t really sell anything that regular individuals can buy.

But when you start talking about clicks versus impressions, bounce rates and CPM, the small-business owner can often get lost in the weeds.[pullquote]I have never once clicked on a Facebook ad.[/pullquote]

For companies like ours, social media plays a big part in a digital campaign. We have a free service — the news and cultural content of our newspaper and website — and we make money from the eyeballs we get on them. At least half of our web traffic comes from social media. But a lot of businesses lose sight of the fact that the point of social media is to create brand awareness and, ultimately, get people over to their websites. In most cases, a Facebook page is not a substitute for a solid, optimized and intuitive site. It’s tempting to think so, I know, but facts is facts.

Here’s another pesky little fact: I have never once clicked on a Facebook ad, even when they’re pushing something I just mentioned in a post.

The branches of digital marketing shoot off into mobile, native content, video, email, search-engine optimization… even those digital billboards are part of the scheme. Frankly, it changes every day.

But the base of the digital marketing tree, the trunk and its roots, is in a vibrant website, which is a sales portal, a PR machine, a customer-service window and an entertainment arm all rolled into one. It’s the digital base of operations, from which and to which everything should flow.

So don’t even talk to me about digital marketing unless you have a great website, unless you want to see my eyes glaze over… or unless you want me to make you one.

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