A Digital Marketing Foundation

on under Epic Guides, SEO Auditing.

Every great digital marketing effort combines three things.

It doesn't matter if the brand is B2B or B2C.  E-Commerce or brick & mortar.  They are:

  1. Foundation
  2. Funnel
  3. Flywheel

Everything our agency does revolves around this, and today, we're talking foundations.  How we build them.  And how you can build one for your business too (with or without our help).

What Is A Digital Marketing Foundation?

Basically, it's two things.

  1. Market Research
  2. Optimized Tactics

We'll go through each below, before providing a calendar you can use at the end.

How To Do Market Research

This subject runs deep. Frankly, it's often only appreciated by seasoned marketers and 2nd or 3rd-time founders, because the return on doing this work is indirect. So I'll keep each topic brief.

  1. Value Proposition(s)

What specific problem can you solve better than everybody else?

How do you do it, and for who?

We live in the golden age of startups, where businesses are spawned every second. But if you look around, wants and needs are as common as ever.

If you've never worked out your value props, remember, this is a process and it doesn't have to start out perfect. Just document why your business is better than everybody else for one corner of the market. There are lots of formats you can use.

As you add products/services, target new market segments, or improve your offering, keep iterating this document.

It's fine to have multiple value propositions, but realize that each time you approach a new group from a different place, you risk muddling your core message and spreading the marketing systems behind them too thin. There's also a good chance that you'll need to fine-tune or start over entirely based feedback, which comes next.

  1. Audience Surveys & Interviews

Do you know your audience?  Do you know what they think of your product and brand?  Are you segmenting them right?

I could write a book on this topic.  Others have.  I'm going to leave you with just this:  keep them short, actionable, and do them often.

If you don't yet have a big enough audience to survey, circulate your idea in one-on-one chats and "growth hack" your early stages with a prototype pamphlet.  Disciplined Entrepreneurship by Bill Aulet describes how to manage this stage of your business better than anything else I've read.

If you're somewhere between, Survey Monkey provides solid, targeted surveyees for $1/person.

  1. Buyer Personas

Personas are profiles that stereotype would-be members of your key audience segments.  They rhyme with the concept of "audience personas", if you come at this from an IT/UX background.

There are lots of ways to do them.  We begin pretty simple, based on assumption + surveys + client input.  And most of ours stay fairly simple, but as marketing efforts evolve, we update them.

But if you want to get elaborate with personas, Adele Revella's book Buyer Personas hits this hard, and she'll do these for around $25,000 per set, based on phone interviews with real members of your audience.

For right now, the point is just that you need these.  As Kurt Vonnegut said:

"Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia."

As your organization grows, it only gets harder to maintain a certain tone across a brand.   Don't get caught like many, furiously rewriting your first few years of biographies, landing pages, blog posts, and press releases to sound cohesive.

Now That You Have These Documents

You're still missing two key elements of good market research.

  1. Audience Demand
  2. Competitive Analysis

These topics are important and we've built them into the next stage of the process.

How To Optimize Tactics

Optimizing your digital marketing for search engine rankings, more sales per visit, and better return from advertisements is complicated. But Northcutt has simplified it better than anybody I've ever seen.

Across dozens of digital marketing checklists, we've laid out all of the tricks in a purely action-focused format.  This is partially based on fact-checking every theory on how Google ranks websites, which includes many of our own scientific studies.

There is a ton of work to be done. Too much to do at one time. Meanwhile, digital marketing, your brand, and your web presence are evolving.

So, we do everything in rotation. You'll need certain studies & audits more often than others. In our company, this feeds into a clear, simple optimization score out of 100 that anybody can understand. If you're doing this work yourself, we give away the first half of each checklist and the concept behind all 24 modules for free.

You can browse the checklists here if you want to dive deep. Basically, each audit fits under one of these umbrellas.

Strategy: Four of our keyword research studies (and related action plans) are worthy of doing in rotation.

  1. Core & Long-Tail Matrix: What 10-15 keywords are your best, long-term targets. And, what are the millions permutations that stem. Breed these into all core brand content.
  2. Low-Hanging Fruit: What keywords just need a little extra attention to get to #1?
  3. Competitor Intersect: What do two close search competitors rank for, but you still don't?
  4. Topic Breadth: What wide range of phrases fits a topic, and how does it fit current content plans?

Core SEO: These six audits are critical for getting search traffic to a site. I've repeatedly seen brands multiply their search revenue this way; without spend a dime on ads or link-getting campaigns. Truth is, it's still a lot easier to do things wrong than right with Google, and you don't know what you don't know. These 300 or so odd steps reveal what's most broken.

Core Inbound: These audits impact SEO too, but more indirectly. Also, your flywheels (ability to get more traffic/links) and funnels (ability to sell). Topics like making your site faster, more mobile-friendly.

Special SEM: These audits are situational. Do you have a local market? An international market? Do video? Do you run paid search? If you said yes to any of that, there are a few more audits that matter for you.

Special Inbound: Do you use marketing automation? Do you want to optimize your digital marketing for more sales? It's situational, depending on your software, if you do e-commerce transactions, gather B2B leads, or attract retail customers. Regardless, some of these checklists will certainly squeeze out extra sales.

The Foundation Calendar

The ideal frequency to run Northcutt audit checklists varies a bit for different brands. This aside, the calendar below is ideal for most. It includes all the topics above.

And that's it.

This is how a brand builds and maintains a profitable digital marketing foundation.

It's work. But so is all the time you've probably spent reading click-bait content about growing your business, or perusing one-trick marketing tools. I'm willing to bet that none of that has ever left you with a plan that's as direct, thorough, or effective as a step-by-step walk through every idea that matters.


Once you've established a strong foundation, your brand is ready to develop funnels that convert visitors on a competitive level.