For a business owner new to online marketing, the space can seem totally bemusing. Google, Facebook, websites, email marketing — so many options — so many tactics and so little time and money to invest. And when faced with so many options to take, the tyranny of choice kicks in, and frequently nothing is done.

But what if from all the options available there was just one thing that needed their attention. Fortunately, there’s a management theory that supports this logic.

The Theory of Constraints was introduced by Eliyahu M. Goldratt back in 1984 with his book The Goal, the cover of which sneaked into a recent presentation I gave to a group of business owners late last Friday afternoon. Now Friday is usually a time for some mental wind down activities, but this group had spent the day planning their efforts for the year with a coaching network we work with. Nevertheless, energy was on the low side and I was the last talk of the day, so I introduced this theory as a simple way to avoid inaction through confusion.

There was no Internet back in 1984 when Mr Goldratt wrote his book. His focus was more on helping organisations optimise systems that were outcome driven and struggling in production and administration. However, online marketing is just a collective group of systems that everyone requires the most from. Think of Google AdWords for a moment. Six steps that need optimising. The prospect searches – step one. Your advertisement is shown – step two. They like your ad and click on it – step three. They like the web page you take them to – step four. They decide you are for them, or they keep looking through your web pages until they are convinced of the fact – step five. They make contact – step six.

Now the theory states that the overall performance of this complete system will be held back by just one of the six steps. Not three – just one that is holding the rest back. It’s the analogy of the weakest link defining the strength of the whole chain. So how does this play out in the real world of people paying for $10 clicks? Here are three real-world examples that I came across last week.

Client A is just starting out with us and arrives paying $10 per click in a highly competitive market. The good news is that there is enough revenue behind each sale to make the cost of these high-priced beauties work IF she can convert them at an industry standard level. (It’s an auction, so someone in the industry must be making it work.) For them the weakest link is Step Three – the prospect liking the ad and clicking on it. They are getting some clicks, but nothing amazing. It’s below our standard and their Google AdWords quality score is suffering because of it.

The reason? Their copy is boring and blends in with all the other “blah” ads that their competitors are showing.  Their service is differentiated — thankfully — but this hasn’t made it through to their advertising. So that’s the focus for the month ahead — right ads that shake up the market. No landing page split tests, no new keywords to bid on or videos to produce — just write better ads.

Client B came to us through one of our Google AdWords Group Training courses. They were struggling with the first step – the prospect searches. The backstory was that they had launched a new product in their industry that delivers an innovative software approach to solving quite a general problem people have in running effective meetings. It’s a cracking solution. Pricing is good. The website looks fantastic. The only issue is that nobody knows  that a solution exists, so they are not using Google to search for it. Unless they can solve this, then their search advertising endeavours will be very short lived.

And finally we get to Client C who is struggling with the last step – the client converts. Prospects are searching,  clicking and engaging with the website content. Videos are being played and PDF documents are being downloaded. However the number who are calling or completing quote/contact forms is way down on where it should be. So it’s here we focus our time. Split testing landing pages — incentivising contact requests — ensuring the site plays well with mobile.

Now I understand that Google AdWords is just one of the many systems you can apply your online marketing efforts to. Social media advertising, organic search optimisation, email marketing, marketing automation are just a few of others available. Thankfully, Mr Goldratt’s theory can be applied at a higher level too — because deep down all these are just sub-systems that operate underneath a general online marketing system.

Make contact if you need help defining which system should deserve your attention, and where in that the weakest link may live.