21 April, 2023

Here’s Why You’ve Stopped Growing Online

You’re not growing because your competition is better than you. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re spending more than you – it just means they’re more advanced, more focused, more aggressive. Here’s how to turn that around.

16 Minute read

You’re not growing online because your competition is better than you. They’ve got better a better strategy and better processes. They’ve got a bigger team and a bigger budget. They’ve got the best technology and the best agencies. They’re hungrier and more focused. They’re more efficient and more effective. And on top of all of that, the number of competitors is growing.

So how do you survive (let alone thrive) when faced with such overwhelming odds?

First, admit to the problem. You can and should be doing better. You’re not perfect, but neither is your competition. The key is figuring out what avenues are going to be most effective to start generating the type of growth you want.


Competition Is Increasing

There’s more competition online than ever before. Why? Several critical reasons converging to create the perfect storm:

  1. Globalisation
    In many industries, the barriers to entry continue to shrink. It’s far easier to start a new business today and be competitive overnight than it was 5, 10, 15 years ago. New entrants are usually agile, digitally savvy and tech-focused. Plus, first-mover advantage doesn’t always carry the weight it once did, especially as technology continues to evolve at lightning speeds. Add to that the ability to talk to anybody, anywhere and anytime, and it’s easy to see how globalisation has made business an easier game than it once was.

  2. Consumer behaviour
    Since a global pandemic forced us to trade the outside world for a virtual one, consumers have become a more captive and engaged audience. With everyone sitting at home and looking for ways to entertain themselves, consumers were suddenly far more likely to purchase. Even those who previously didn’t like shopping online – or didn’t feel comfortable / safe doing so – were forced to step out of their comfort zone because they had no choice. And in response, the number of companies competing online skyrocketed.

  3. COVID lockdowns
    Companies who’s revenue was predominantly driven by bricks and mortar were suddenly presented with an uncomfortable choice: focus on digital marketing, or die. Retailers, FMCG brands and SMEs more broadly who’d never put time and attention into a digital strategy suffered the most. Many didn’t survive. But with no consumers walking the streets or and going into physical locations, digital became the battleground for every company on earth.

  4. Sinking brand loyalty
    This is heavily driven by points #2 and #3, but it’s worth discussing separately since it’s a major motivator for brands moving online. McKinsey’s research says it best: “The pandemic ushered in an unprecedented level of … brand loyalty disruption. A whopping 75 percent of consumers tried new shopping behaviours, with many of them citing convenience and value. Fully 39 percent of them, mainly Gen Z and millennials, deserted trusted brands for new ones.”

The full impact of the above is staggering when you look at the numbers:

  • Global e-commerce sales are forecast to grow over 84% between 2019 and the end of 2023
  • That’s an additional $2.8 trillion in global e-commerce sales
  • eCommerce sales as a percentage of total retail sales will grow by almost 62% by the end of 2023

Source: Insider Intelligence


So no, you weren’t imagining your cost-per-click (CPC) growing exponentially across Google Ads and the various social platforms. Some industries reported CPC increases of 1,000% as their competitors transitioned their budgets to be entirely dedicated to digital marketing. Those are staggering increases, and many businesses can’t afford those types of price hikes.

But how do you combat all of the forces listed above?


Broaden Your Strategy

If you can’t be found online, you may as well not exist. This point can’t be overstated. A digital presence is the funnel that feeds your entire growth strategy, with very few exceptions. That doesn’t mean that other, non-digital strategies can’t work. It just means that in isolation, you’ll never hit the types of numbers you would otherwise.

Consumers don’t follow a linear line to conversion – it’s messy and all over the place. They continuously oscillate between the research and consideration phases as they decide if your product / service is what they need and if you’re the best company to purchase from.

If you you’re just running a Google Ads campaign, then you’re one dimensional. If you’re doing Google Ads and Instagram Ads, but the two strategies are siloed instead of integrated, then you’re still pretty one-dimensional. It’s not enough to just have one tactic and flog it to death.

When the time comes for consumers to make a purchase, they’ll most likely pick the company they had multiple touchpoints with – interactions at every stage of the funnel via different channels.

If it were me, here’s the basics that I would be investing in:


User Experience (UX) and Conversion Optimisation (CRO)

Having a website that is easy to find and easy to use is a non-negotiable for any business these days. And while the overwhelming majority of companies have a website, the number of companies who have a website that is easy to navigate and works properly would be far, far smaller. That’s because once the website is built it’s often forgotten about – sometimes for years – as the focus transitions to generating website traffic and sales.

But you should be focusing on more than just generating more website traffic. What about generating more business from existing website traffic?

There’s two ways to grow your business: increase your traffic or increase your conversion rate. Doubling your conversion rate is easier, cheaper and more within your control than doubling your website traffic. Working with CRO and/or UX specialists will keep your website presentable, usable, accurate and effective.

An eConsultancy report (admittedly from 2017) found that globally, for every $92 spent on driving traffic to a website, only $1 was spent on converting it. 92:1. That’s a mind-blowing discrepancy. So much money is being spent driving traffic to websites that are unable to turn a website visitor into a customer because of their terrible user experience. It’s lighting money on fire. Stop doing it.

Your website isn’t a static resource. Much like your company, it needs to be constantly evolving, iterating and improving. Have an ongoing conversion optimisation strategy in place so you can fully capitalise on all of your other marketing initiatives.


Paid Channels

This might seem like an obvious one. Everyone knows that paid channels are a quick way of building some visibility and feeding the top of the funnel. Many of you probably immediately thought of Google Ads, Meta Ads and Instagram Ads. But what about TikTok, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, affiliates and media buying?

Too many of you are running a small Google Ads campaign having never tested another channel. Your strategies work in siloes and you don’t stray from what you know. But I can tell you right now that the businesses you’re striving to emulate tried and tested multiple channels to find their most efficient and effective mix. And then they integrated those channels so they worked together to improve performance further.

These businesses didn’t just do one thing forever. They broadened their horizons to see the possibilities. And the ones that didn’t? You’ve probably never heard of them.


Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

I know so many people who’ve been burnt in SEO. Whether it was a dodgy agency, freelancer or consultant, there are plenty of cowboys out there who are giving the entire industry a really bad name. But that doesn’t make SEO bad, nor does it make it the wrong strategy. At the end of the day, organic search is the only channel that’s going to send you consistently free traffic. You’re not following a pay-per-click model. Instead, you’re being promoted and rewarded for having a well-optimised, informative and relevant website within your industry.

This is obviously far easier said than done, and the competition for the organic listings on search engine results pages (SERPs) is steep. There’s limited spots and seemingly unlimited options for Google and Bing to choose from. And that’s why you need to start early. SEO is about consistency, quality and patience. You can’t keep starting and stopping, and you can’t expect results in just a few months. You’re playing the long game here. You’re thinking in years.

But when you get it right, the enormous benefits will soon follow. On the other hand, the longer you put it off the longer it will be before you get any type of traction. And the further behind your competitors you’ll fall.


Content Marketing

Content marketing could fall within your SEO strategy, or you can view it as a separate strategy that also happens to have important SEO benefits. Either way, the two are heavily interwoven.

We live in an information age. Consumers are searching for answers all the time. They want to be informed, and they want to feel secure in the decisions they’re making. It is, after all, their hard-earned money they’re parting ways with. Most consumers aren’t reckless, so content provides an opportunity to educate, to build connection, to drive purchase, and to build loyalty. Content is the fastest way for anybody to know who you are, what you stand for, and why they should do business with you.

It’s your personality on a page.

We’ve all been to a website where the content is boring, dry, unhelpful, wrong, or missing entirely. That immediately creates a negative brand experience and reduces the likelihood of them doing business with you. Having a well thought-out content strategy that leads to you producing high quality, engaging and informative content will have a direct impact on your bottom line.


Organic Social and Influencers

The use of social channels and influencers won’t work in every industry. It would be fair to say that companies in fashion, beauty, travel and general lifestyle have an unfair advantage for this channel. Anyone who’s product / service has visual appeal, or is aspirational in nature, is going to generate more engagement on social channels than, say, a logistics company.

The reason I’ve included social and influencers on this list, despite the slightly narrowed target audience, is because it’s a channel that is tried, tested and effective. The amount of brands who’ve been launched purely off their work with influencers is staggering.

Similar to SEO, the key here is consistency. Post regularly. Make sure the content looks great. Think about who your target market is and cater to them – both with the images and the copywriting. This is your chance to engage on a more human level. Take it.


Email Marketing

I’m throwing this one in here because, like conversion optimisation, it’s the very bottom of the funnel and is consistently overlooked. Those in the e-commerce space have long led the way when it comes to email marketing, using segmentation and automation to their advantage to drive repeat purchases and keep their customer base engaged. Service-based businesses, on the other hand, have a lot to learn.

If you don’t already have an email marketing strategy in place, take this as your sign to start. Build your list. Segment it. Automate your communication sequences to each segment. Create engagement. Generate sales. That’s the formula.

This is obviously much easier to type than it is to do (and do well). But there are a lot of companies who are generating significant revenue purely from email marketing. And given how low-cost this channel is, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you ignored it.


Spend Money to Make Money

I’m going to preface this by pointing out that not everyone has money to spend. Lots of companies have a shoestring budget, so they have to be selective with where, when and how they deploy their budget. And if that’s the case, find your best channel and focus there so you can reinvest the profits into testing and learning elsewhere.

Or perhaps you’re caught in a catch-22: “We’ll spend money when results improve, but results won’t improve until we spend money.”

Sound like you? You’re far from alone. But in my experience the difference between those who do and don’t succeed is usually the ‘doing’ part. If you’re playing it safe and thinking small, then your outcomes will be small.

I’m not telling you to spend your life savings on a marketing campaign. I’m saying you should:

  1. Gather as much data as you can find about your current and prospective customers; then
  2. Use it to launch targeted, multi-channel campaigns; then
  3. Implement a test-and-learn methodology to keep tweaking and optimising to drive performance; then
  4. Keep reinvesting the profits to and increase budgets in the areas that are working best and test new ideas; then
  5. Slowly start to reduce spend in areas that aren’t working and see if that impacts the performance of other channels; then
  6. Keep doing this until you find your ideal channel mix and see how far you can push the budgets before you hit a point of diminishing returns

Spending big isn’t always more productive than spending smarter – and that’s not what I’m advocating for. But either way, you should still be spending. If you’re trying to grow your company by spending zero money on marketing, you’re going to be in for a rough ride.


Focus On Yourself

Just because your competitors are doing something, doesn’t make it right. This is a really easy trap to fall into. You compare yourself to others and automatically assume it must be working for them. But you’re unlikely to have any way of knowing that for sure.

What you do know, however, is what is and isn’t working for you. Start there. Stop doing the things that aren’t working and keep optimising your own internal systems, processes and operations so that more things start working the way they should.

Doing something just because someone else is won’t get you to where you want to go.


Stop Changing Agencies

Oh boy. This is an entire article in itself. But let me be as succinct as possible on this one. Not everything is your agency’s fault. Not enough people look in the mirror to see the role they played in poor performance, a poor relationship, or both. It’s easy to point the finger at the agency. It’s much harder to take accountability for your own actions that led to a bad outcome.

To be clear, I’m not saying that agencies never make mistakes and should be given a free pass. Far from it. But I’ve seen enough of these situations play out to know that the agencies don’t often receive the acknowledgment they deserve, while often receiving the criticism they don’t.

So instead of chopping and changing agencies every 3-6 months, ask yourself a few important questions first:

  1. Did you follow the agency’s requested processes? For example:
    – Did I properly complete the kick-off brief?
    – Did I give them all of the access details they needed?
    – Did I give them all of the information they needed to be a successful partner?
    – And did I do all of the above in a reasonable timeframe?

  2. Did you consistently communicate your needs and expectations, and were they reasonable?

  3. Did you listen to their advice and implement their strategic recommendations? And if you did, how long did it take to implement those changes?

  4. Did you read the detailed reports they sent you, which explained variances in performance and ways of turning things around? Were their expectations on potential external factors truthful and fair?

  5. Did you send them last-second briefs and expect them to drop everything to turn things around?

  6. Were you collaborative, understanding and friendly, or were you constantly finger-pointing, unreasonable and rude?

  7. Am I moving to another agency just because they can do something cheaper, rather than focusing on  the quality and performance my current agency is delivering?

It’s worth remembering that there’s a significant cost to changing agencies. You lose a lot of time and momentum, not to mention the risk of changing strategies and starting a new relationship.

  • Time spent meeting and vetting potential new agencies
  • Time spent onboarding a new agency
  • Time spent getting the new agency up-to-speed
  • Time the new agency needs to spend doing auditing, analysis and strategy work before they can get started with implementation
  • Time spent building a new relationship

Having said all of that…

If they’re doing dodgy things, fire them.
If they’re rude to you or lie to you, fire them.
If they constantly make costly mistakes, fire them.
If they can’t deliver results over an extended period of time, fire them.

All I’m saying is that before you do, make sure that the biggest problem wasn’t actually you.


Start Trusting Your Team

If you’ve hired someone into a marketing role, the expectation is that they’re extremely capable. And  unless you’ve also come from a marketing background, it’s likely this person actually knows quite a bit more than you do. They’ll have more experience in those types of roles, have plenty of their own ideas and will know how to change things for the better. They’re the subject matter expert. That’s why you hired them in the first place, right?

Then get out of their way.

Stop micromanaging them. Stop shooting down their ideas. Stop removing their autonomy. Stop blocking them every time they try to implement new systems, processes and strategies.

You need to trust them.

Most business owners are usually specialists in whatever product / service they’ve developed. So unless you actually come from a marketing background – and I don’t mean you took a few classes in university – then let your marketing team do what you hired them to do.

It’s not just about getting out of their way. It’s also getting out of your own.


Final Thought

“Build it and they will come” isn’t a strategy. It’s a recipe for failure. You need to put time, effort and focus into marketing your business. Competition is absolutely increasing, and the only way to combat that is to put yourself out there more. Otherwise you’re just going to fall further behind.

Here’s your recipe for success:

  1. An excellent strategy
  2. A strong internal team
  3. Skilled external partners
  4. An appetite to take risks
  5. The ability to let go

If you’re missing one of those, then you’re driving a car with a flat tire. You might make it to where you want to go, but it’ll take you a lot longer to get there. Or you won’t make it at all.

Serious about growing your business?

Today is the perfect day to take action.

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