Small Business Tips: The Basics Of Internet Marketing

Guidelines and ideas for preparing an Internet marketing campaign and using free and paid promotion methods as well as offline Web site marketing.

Despite what some Internet marketers would have their customers believe, online marketing does not have to be expensive or complicated. The standard goals of attracting qualified leads, convincing them to buy, and keeping them as repeat customers apply online, too. One advantage online is that because some of the most effective marketing methods are free, even a minimal financial investment can bring good results.

Preparation

Just as with offline promotions, starting a marketing campaign without a clear idea of the habits of your target market will only waste time. Before you begin your campaign, become familiar with other Web sites, newsletters, and discussion groups in your industry to get a clear picture of where your prospects spend time online.

This includes researching which keywords and key phrases your prospects type into the search engines. A variety of online tools are available to help find relevant key phrases with a good ratio of demand (searches) to supply (web sites using that term). These phrases can then be used in optimizing your site for the search engines. For example, if your market is dog care, you might create one page focused on the key phrase "natural dog food", another on "trimming nails", and so on. The best keyword density (how many times a keyword is used on a page) changes over time as search engines change their algorithms, but keeping it under 5% should work best.

Also, be sure your site really is ready to be marketed. Marketing a half-baked site is not only a waste of energy, but can damage the site's reputation. For selling anything more than an ebook, a one- or two-page brochure is almost not worth the cost of hosting. Product information, a FAQ, an About Us section, and informational articles at the site will all give sales a nudge.

Free Marketing Options

It's possible to build traffic with no financial investment in advertising, but it takes time and knowledge. Search engines, for instance, can bring highly targeted traffic at no cost if the site is well optimized. There's little need to pay to be listed or submit to dozens of engines because once your site is in one of the major engines, the others will also pick it up. For quicker listing you can post, with your URL in your signature space, to a high-traffic discussion board such as a forum where webmasters can request site reviews. When the forum is spidered your link will be, too. Making regular up-dates, even small ones, to your pages encourages frequent visits from the engines' indexing robots and ensures your recently-added content is picked up quickly. In addition to search engines, submit your URL to industry-specific and regional directories and link collections.

Swapping advertising space, when done discerningly, can bring a significant number of visitors. Link and banner swapping can be tedious if you email each potential partner individually (and if you do it in bulk it's spam), but to speed things up there are link swapping banks where you can post a request for a swap or reply to one. If possible, avoid a sudden influx of new incoming links (sites who link to you) as some search engines penalize for this. Currently, skyscraper (vertical) banners are more effective in getting clicks than horizontal banners, and text links are more effective than any type of banner. Surfers have learned to ignore ad banners and are more receptive to text that appears to be part of an article or menu.

Swapping or giving away articles is another way to not only get your link out there, but also establish yourself as an expert in your field and make use of the relationship visitors have with the site where your article is posted. A number of free article banks exist where site owners can place articles to be picked up by others. With any form of swapping, however, be careful who you associate with: some search engines reduce the rank of a site that links to very poor quality sites. Likewise, avoid giving away duplicates of articles already on your site, as there are search engines that penalize for duplicate content, regardless of which site posted that content first.

Participating in active forums can also help establish your credibility while getting your name out among your target audience. Be reasonable, of course -- many forums are sensitive to "business" postings and plugging your site overmuch will lose you respect. If you're new to the board, first participate without posting your URL to give members time to get to know you as a person. After a few weeks of regular postings, add your tag line and URL to your signature. If you want to direct someone to your Web site, mention that you can provide the needed service or product, but avoid posting the URL in the body of the message; leave it in your signature or profile.

Press releases can boost traffic considerably, but be sure you have a newsworthy item to write about; just opening or redesigning a Web site is not news. If there's no recent or upcoming event that ties in with your product, you might highlight a current problem and present, as neutrally as possible, how your company solves that problem. At least one Web site offers free press release distribution, while others will distribute releases to specific markets for a fee.

Much of the marketing occurs on your site itself. You have only a few seconds to catch your visitor's attention and most often a visitor won't buy on the first visit. Because of this, content must be highly relevant to your prospects and prospects must have a strong reason to return.

Free products are one of the simplest ways to draw traffic and encourage repeat visits and sales. Give away an ebook, report, auto-responder course, or email consultation. Run a contest or offer your service or product as a prize for another site's contest. Send out a newsletter with unique information that's valuable to your market. You can also use a freebie as an incentive for visitors to join your mailing list or fill out a survey, or as a bonus gift with a purchase. For more publicity, list your free items with the major freebie sites and the smaller freebie sites will pick them up, as well.

Newsletters are a dime a dozen these days and surfers are becoming more selective. However, an opt-in mailing list, when treated properly, can bring buyers regularly and is a must-try for a serious online business. For the best protection against being reported as a spammer, use a double opt-in method, in which users must both fill in a form on your site and reply to an email to subscribe to the newsletter. If you're short of ideas, try dividing the newsletter into titled sections, such as a Tip of the Week or Industry News, to inspire ideas. Inviting readers to submit articles in exchange for a link in the newsletter is another way to get free content.



Many people online are running their own businesses, so giving visitors a chance to promote their site at yours can be mutually beneficial. Invite visitors to submit articles, run weekly visitor profiles, or sponsor contests and run profiles of the top three winners.

"Viral marketing", creating a product that gets passed from one user to another, can help bring new prospects. The product doesn't have to be complicated -- create an ebook of jokes, recipes, or inspirational quotes that pertain to your market, post a funny picture with your URL watermarked on it, let visitors send e-cards from your site or even give away email accounts.

Developing a free service or program, such as a cost calculator relevant to your visitors' needs, is another way to draw visitors and keep them returning. Access to it can also serve as an incentive used similarly to the freebies mentioned earlier.

When you're getting noticeable traffic (100 unique visits a day or so) you may want to open your own discussion board to help build community around your site. You'll most likely have to get it started yourself by either inventing a few personalities or inviting friends in to start discussions.

Paid Marketing Options

Swapping may be free, but too many banners on your pages looks unprofessional. Simply buying advertising space will cut down on the ad clutter on your pages. Although most sites offer only a flat-rate option, some charge only when a visitor clicks on your ad.

Listing your site with pay-per-click (PPC) search engines will jump start your traffic, but these engines can become problematic when you're spending more than you're making. The imbalance is usually a sign that the campaign isn't fine-tuned enough. Either you're bidding on the wrong keywords or your target market doesn't use that search engine. Similarly, if you sell a product, you can list your site with shopping comparison and auction sites. Some are free, while some are PPC or take a commission from each sale.

One of the most overlooked methods of Internet marketing is online radio ads. These are more memorable and less easy to ignore than banners or even text ads. They are often considerably cheaper than traditional radio spots, even when the market reach is comparable. In fact, because webcasting isn't geographically limited the way broadcasting is, online radio ads typically reach a more targeted audience.

A cousin of PPC advertising, affiliate marketing is gaining popularity and there are whole sites designed to sell exclusively through affiliate programs. With this system, the product owner pays a commission on each product sold by another site owner. Usually some investment in a tracking script or membership in affiliate management program is required. This simplest route is to join a program that handles the tracking and payment details for a fee. Keep in mind, though, just because site owners join your affiliate program doesn't mean those people will make sales. The majority of people just put up a banner and wonder why they don't make money. Providing affiliates with training and support can help, but even if no sales are made, their marketing efforts build name recognition for you.

If you're considering hiring a professional for marketing or search engine optimization, beware of those who won't disclose their methods. They may either have no clear idea of what they're going to do or, worse, be using unorthodox methods that will harm your business over the long term.

Offline Web site Marketing

Particularly if your business is online only, it's easy to forget offline marketing. Simply put, marketing a Web site outside the Internet means getting your URL, along with some information about the site, out whenever you can. Print it on business cards, letterhead, and promotional literature, as well as receipts, instructions, packaging, and warranties. Include your URL in your voicemail and on-hold messages. The closed sign on your door might read "We're closed, but our Web site is open". Promotional items like bumper stickers, pens, mugs, and magnets are also visible places for a URL. For webmasters on a limited budget, several online companies can create custom promotional products that can be bought one item at a time.

To encourage current customers to visit your site, link your brick and mortar store and Web promotions. Offer books on CDs for sale in store, but an ebook version free at your site. Sponsor a contest where entrants much search your site for answers to questions on the contest entry form. Advertise in-store discounts available on products purchased through your site. Let customers know about services such as online booking that may be available at your site.

What Doesn't Work

There's a lot of out-dated information floating around, not to mention misguided advice, that can waste time. Posting at free-for-all sites (link farms) rarely brings customers. So-called safe lists of hundreds of emails to use for "opt-in marketing" usually don't return much on the investment and may get you reported for spamming. Programs that send random visitors to your site are usually just a waste of bandwidth. Before investing in any unusual marketing tricks, check at Internet marketing discussion boards to be sure the program is legitimate.

Keep Learning

If you're serious about building an online business it's vital to keep up with the changes and advancements of Internet marketing. Weekly reading from a few information-rich discussion boards and newsletters should keep you up to speed. Likewise, continuously analyze your traffic and keep close track of your ad campaigns. Online it's quick and inexpensive to experiment, so keep a list of ideas to try. Browse through your competitors' sites, or even complimentary sites, to find techniques you can adapt for use on your own site.

Building a stable online business doesn't require a limitless budget or a degree in marketing. Even with a modest budget and basic research, a Web site with quality information, a good product or service, and well written sales copy can build steady traffic and income along with it. Keep learning and experimenting and your business stands a good chance of holding its own on the market.

© High Speed Ventures 2011