I attended a very useful panel discussion hosted by Anthill Magazine last night in Sydney  called Online Marketing by Design (Twitter hash tag #mumhill). The focus was online marketing (duh!) and social media.

Panelists included:

Host – James Tuckerman www.Twitter.com/anthillmagazine

Ross Dawson www.Twitter.com/rossdawson

Mick Liubinskas www.Twitter.com/liubinskas

Tim Burrowes www.Twitter.com/mumbrella

A mystery fourth expert was a late replacement (can someone update me please?).

[UPDATE – Thanks Tim, the 4th panelist was Heather Snodgrass (www.Twitter.com/likeomg) – Apologies Heather, I didn’t hear the intro & had never seen you ‘offline’ before]

The panelists clearly knew their stuff, and there were lots of laughs. Drinks flowed for everyone (except me… damn detox…)

The last question posed by James was one of the most interesting of the night. It was about a mini case study, but as time was running away, and the bar beckoned, the panelists were forced into short answers.

While lying awake in bed when I got home, I got to thinking about how would I address the mini case study… and so a blog post was born:

The question from James went something like this: “Say you’re a solar panel company with a $500k online marketing budget, and you make $10k gross margin on each sale. What areas of online marketing would you focus on, including staff hire etc?”

So I will take a crack.


I’d start by hiring a quality copywriter/website editor who has intermediate SEO skills. Content really is king. And you can never have too much good quality content. If the copywriter has intimate knowledge of the subject matter the quality will sky rocket. So it makes sense for the role to be in-house. Start developing internal online marketing expertise as soon as possible. The role could mature and take on more SEO & PPC over time. (Perhaps also consider a junior online marketer to do some heavy lifting and learn the ropes.)


I agreed with Mick’s point – before you start any form of marketing, spend time understanding your EXACT target market. What are their characteristics? Why do they buy? Draw up 3 detailed personas of your typical customers.


Measurability is the holy grail, so first you need a baseline to measure progress against. Using your Google Analytics data, baseline your website KPIs (number of visitors, traffic, source, time on site, conversions etc). All future progress will be measured against this starting point.


User testing is a great way to find out if there any roadblocks preventing someone from buying from your site. Getting loads of traffic is pointless if your website is crap. If a bucket has holes in it, you wouldn’t pour in more water, you’d plug the holes. Do the same with your website.

Use a cheap, and incredibly useful, service like www.usertesting.com. For $150 you can get 5 x 15 minute videos of a tester interacting with your site (it includes their commentary) following the script you gave them.  The insights will be invaluable. Make their recommended changes to your site.

Get every staff member who has a say in the website to read the book “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. Also make sure you have as many credibility factors as possible throughout your website, eg case studies, testimonials, memberships, awards, videos (eg product demos), and info about the people behind the business. Flesh out your product pages. Strong calls to action on every page are absolutely critical.


Implement another incredibly useful tool such as www.clicktale.com which will record videos of real-life visitors interacting with your website. The mind boggles at the sort of stuff you can learn from this tool. Especially when it comes to filling in (or not filling) forms. (Yes that is an affiliate link. I couldn’t buy the company, so I did the next best thing.)

Cost of the above website work will obviously depend on how bad your site is.


Only now that your website is a lean mean selling machine do you start spending significant effort on traffic.

Hire a great Search Engine Marketing agency to get your Google AdWords and Yahoo pay per click underway. (We know someone…) Choose a company that is prepared to educate your staff so that the expertise starts to grow in-house.  Preferably use phone-call tracking so you can tie the offline conversion (the phone call) back to your online marketing.  (Note: Don’t go with an agency that locks you into any long-term contracts.)

Start the first month with Google’s search network in just one city at, say, $5k for the first month. Measure if it is profitable. (If not, look hard at ClickTale data for clues.) Restructure the campaign (with all the learnings from the first month) before rolling out nationally.

Consider writing an interesting whitepaper that visitors can download, to get potential customers into your sales funnel. Then nurture the relationship with email marketing linked in with your CRM (like SalesForce).

In Month 2, start a content campaign with both text and animated image ads. Placement targeting on high quality sites is recommended. Then roll out to Yahoo, which could see you gain an additional 10% volume at a lower cost per click. Increase budget for pay per click campaigns to $20k pm.


Hire an SEO company that has proven results in similar industries. If they’re already familiar with your industry when doing things like link building, this should make them more efficient and you should get faster results (and maybe lower costs?).

First of all, your agency should help you with some competitor intelligence. Having a thorough understanding of your competitors’ SEO strategy is strongly recommended and will improve the effectiveness of your own strategy.

Get the agency to focus on any technical roadblocks that are upsetting the search bots. Do the basic stuff with sitemaps, title and description tags, robots.txt, internal linking, anchor text, SEO friendly URLs… blah blah blah.

Use the keyword data from your pay-per-click campaigns (the best keyword data you will have) to do your SEO keyword research. Then SEO the hell out of your web copy. Stuff your keywords everywhere you can. OK, just kidding, don’t stuff keywords everywhere. The SEO copywriter can perform the delicate art of tweaking the copy for search engines as well as visitors. Or the SEO agency can help.

Then get onto the link building. Ask the agency how they go about getting good quality links? What do they consider a good quality link? How many will they get? Link building is a very time consuming process when done well. Evaluate rankings AND traffic AND leads.

Compare the returns from SEO to pay-per-click.

8. PR

Consider hiring a PR agency that has online expertise at its core, not a remodeled old school PR agency that tacks on online strategy as an afterthought. They need to understand SEO e.g. monthly online press releases optimisied for SEO as well as social. And of course, a viral campaign could work a treat.


Now you have a pretty effective website, some decent traffic AND lots of sales leads for your sales team to follow up on. Focus can then be shifted to include some medium-term social strategies. These activities take time to reap rewards and, as Mick said, you don’t create a community overnight.

Start a company blog. (Note: LOTS of discipline is required to keep it regular.) Research where your target market hangs out online. What blogs are prominent? Connect with them. What forums are popular? Engage with them, and answer their questions. Create a Twitter account, a Facebook fan page.

These social strategies take time.



You should be measuring all the time, and refining your strategy. What is working? What is not working?

Your web analytics package (eg Google Analytics) really should be the foundation for all your online marketing decisions. For this reason, I’d strongly recommend to start building these analytics skills up in-house.

So there it is!

Or a start anyway.

As the costs will come in well under $500k, perhaps take the leftovers and give your Search Marketing Agency a lovely bonus. They are obviously the most deserving of all your partners.

Anything in the wrong order? What have I missed? Who should get the bonus?

By Philip Shaw


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  • Nice response.

    I think it was interesting that James suggested hiring journos from around the world. A real social media campaign would just get the team that developed the solar panels to write about what they know and love. That would be a lot cheaper.

    The whole panel though was definitely a case of carpenters solving all problems with hammers – me 100% included. “Focus, focus, test, measure”

  • Thanks for coming along!

    The other member of the panel was Heather Snodgrass (@likeomg) who kindly stepped in when Kim McKay had an urgent family issue.


    Tim – Mumbrella

  • I’ll retweet this. 🙂

    Mick – The advantage of employing having full-time journos in my not so humble opinion is to let the staff do their job (perhaps give them blogging duties) and create something that could quite easily rival (and beat) traditional media channels – on a national or global scale.

    Imagine a future where the mainstream media does not have the resources to research and break big stories (investigative journalism etc). Unless the big boys figure out a way to monetise this sort of journalism (something that is becoming a struggle), the only parties left with the financial motivation will be private industry channels – like the hypothetical solar panel company.

    Who will own the news of the future? The people who can make the most money from owning it. I would argue that a solar panel company can derive greater financial benefit from ‘owning’ its channel than a News Ltd.

    Option A: Spend $500k on advertising
    Option B: Create an ‘A-Team’ of industry specific journos to (hopefully) become the world’s leading source (or Australia’s leading source) of clean-tech news.

    A $500k ‘journalism’ budget would indeed make this ‘crack unit’ the most highly funded team of clean-tech journalists in the world!

  • Philip says:

    James – certainly food for thought! Would you allocate the full $500k budget to a team of journos? Does that mean you wouldn’t do any of the other online marketing stuff above?

  • I think that you need to do all those things, as we talked about…

    Measurable: Set gaols that you can measure (baseline). Don’t set goals that you can’t mesaure. And analyse everything! This also covers usability testing, SEO, pay per click etc.

    Sharable: Make all content compelling, remarkable, technically sharable, use PR, syndicate widely, enable your audience to distribute (retweet etc) content for you.

    Findable: Back to SEO and usability.

    Manageable: Set systems in place so that all elements are part of the process – a process of constant testing, refinement and improvement.


    None of this will be worth a damn unless you have AWESOME content. That’s where your crack team of writers is so important. Looking back on each of those themes, they all rely on having something to say of relevance to your target audience – whether the focus is clean-tech or sand-paper manufacturing.

  • Luke says:

    Wow, what an interesting discussion! I certainly like the process that has been proposed above, and although I’d have never thought of James’ suggestions in a million years, I can see the benefits of this approach as well, I guess it is indicative of how one’s surroundings and experiences such as James’ PR and publications background can provide a unique perspective & solution than may not have been thought of by others (such as myself) who have not had similar experiences.

    One thing I think has been omitted from this rather large budgeted campaign that could have impact in this industry is an educational / viral online video campaign. This could be included as part of the social media campaign and videos.

    As someone who deals with much smaller budgets I will watch with interest as this discussion continues!

  • Mark says:

    Hi, re “I’d start by hiring a quality copywriter/website editor who has intermediate SEO skills.”

    Would you outsource this via odesk or some other business or keep it in-house?


  • Philip says:

    Mark, it depends on many factors – the size of your company, budget, skills available, competing priorities etc. Both options can work if executed properly. Generally speaking, I think keeping writing in house can often work the best. If you’d like to discuss further, please feel free to give me a call. Regards, Philip.