How can a company that is already successful in reaching its local market expand its online marketing reach? The good news is that traditional offline marketing that has always been so effective will continue to promote your online presence at least as effectively. The flip side of the coin is that, in order to promote your business online, you must update old marketing practices to align with online marketing best practices.
Any business should already have a marketing plan and objectives from their offline initiatives; therefore, let’s dive right into the technological aspects of online marketing. The following items are typically my first consideration because they can be implemented with minimal or no initial investment, and because subsequent specialist marketing will not be as effective without them in place. Obviously, there is a great deal more to online marketing; its scope could easily justify a full-time university course.
This is a primer to help you get your website off the ground on a shoestring budget if you’re not quite ready to call in the big guns to market your site professionally.
1. Site optimization
This is always the starting point, as the success of everything that follows frequently depends on this initial step. When I say this, I include excellent content and user-friendly navigation as the foundation of everything. Once your site has been optimized for intelligent visitors, you may then optimize it for search engines, but never at the expense of the intelligent visitors.
Search engines consider aspects such as keyword density and how closely a page matches a particular search term. Obviously, this is extremely oversimplified, but it is a good starting point. Once your site has been indexed, you will begin to see much better results if you have identified 10 to 20 key terms and created specialized pages with relevant information that incorporates those terms appropriately.
You will discover that it is preferable to use specialized keyword phrases, such as “precision-engineered bolts” rather than a generic term like “engineering parts.” You should also strive to create a unique page for each keyword phrase you want to be indexed, and include the keyword phrase in the page’s title, meta tags, and body text at a high density relative to other words. You should also ideally include the keyword in the page’s title as well as its URL, Each page should have a unique title based specifically on the keyword used in the page’s content.
Your website should be built with XHTML and CSS, as table-based design causes numerous technical issues and results in a keyword density that is lower than the current standards.
Ideally, you should use a content management system that incorporates and simplifies all of the above, such as the one that comes standard with RealmSurfer websites. You will be able to manage your own content optimization with some trial and error.
2. Connecting and indexing
The following step is to get search engines to notice and index your website. Google, for example, will not even consider your site until at least one other indexed site links to it. Paid inclusion (paying search engines to index your site on a priority schedule) may be appropriate at this stage if you need to expedite this process urgently, but it is not always required.
At this stage, participation in forums serving your primary target market can be especially beneficial. This has the dual benefit of raising awareness of your business within the communities you wish to reach, while also helping to generate incoming links to your website, which search engines value highly. Ensure that a link to your website is included in the footer of your posts.
Never use a forum to spam members or submit unsolicited advertising posts — doing so will destroy the credibility of your business. Some forums have a distinct advertising section where it may be acceptable to post information about your services and products. Always ensure that your presence in the community represents a valuable contribution. Stay on topic and demonstrate professionalism, helpfulness, and constructiveness.
When ranking a website, search engines take numerous factors into account. New sites, for example, perform poorly at first, but you’ll find that as your site ages, search engines will assign you some credibility weighting. External to the site itself, the most important factor is the number of inbound (preferably non-reciprocal) links from other sites, as well as the context and wording of the referring link, and the ranking of the referring page and referring site. The popularity of those sites and the link’s position within the site’s own hierarchy play a significant role. For instance, a link from www.news.com.au carries much more weight than a link from a page that is extremely buried, such as www.somesitesomewhere.com/subdirectory/theattic/someoldforgottenpage.
3. Establish online marketing partnerships with prominent online companies
This is where you stand to gain the most from a successful implementation. Instead of paying high-traffic websites to advertise on their sites, which can be very untargeted, we offered them a percentage of sales when I was previously in charge of the e-commerce division of a large company. In other words, we gave them banners to promote the service, implemented simple tracking of where our visitors came from, and then paid the referrer a percentage of the total revenue. This resulted in extremely low marketing costs for us, and the referring sites began to place a greater emphasis on ensuring that we received top placement whenever they ran out of paid inventory.
Another effective medium-term strategy is to provide valuable content to websites serving your target audience. They benefit from your relevant content, while you gain exposure and backlinks.
4. Dabble in paid keyword advertising
At this point, you should actually begin paying for online advertising. These forms of advertising, however, allow you to target specific individuals, resulting in a much higher return on investment than advertising to everyone. This may require some trial and error to determine what works best, but the amount you pay should be less than the amount of business you generate, and should typically include comprehensive measurement and reports on a regular basis, preferably online.
In this regard, I frequently recommend beginning with Google. They are by far the most popular search engine worldwide, have an excellent reputation, provide online reporting, and are most likely to provide initial results. Yahoo and MSN also have excellent paid link systems, which continue to improve over time. All three companies’ most recent offerings now permit targeting to specific demographics, a trend that is likely to become the preferred method of targeting online audiences once the capabilities for this type of targeting mature.
5. Involve a specialist in internet marketing
You should now be beginning to see some results and be in a good position to ask intelligent questions. Deal with only companies that have a good reputation (ask for client contact information so you can determine their effectiveness) and have been in business for at least a few years. They should also provide very detailed reports (ask for samples in advance) and be able to explain in detail how they promote your website, on which sites they do so, the number of views and clickthroughs per site per day, and the relative effectiveness of each promotion. Additionally, they should meet with you at least once per month to discuss successes and failures and to include you in the decision-making process regarding where to promote your business in the future. You should be able to evaluate your cost per sale for various promotions at least monthly and adjust your focus accordingly.
Be especially wary of companies that promise unreasonably quick results, rely primarily on search engine submission, or use deceptive methods to “trick” search engines into ranking you higher. These typically produce no value, and in some cases can result in search engines removing your site or ranking it very low.