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Online Marketing for Small Business

You own a small business. Do you need a website? An Internet presence can be a necessity or a resource-draining boondoggle, depending on your business and your target audience. You shouldn't build or maintain a website simply because "everyone else has one." However, even if you own a one-person services company and get all the business you can handle through word of mouth, you can still create an online presence with a minimum of time and expense.

If and when you do develop a business website, you'll need to make some kind of investment in Internet-based marketing. Consumers increasingly and overwhelmingly use the Internet to research and buy goods and services. This means the competition is robust, and if your site doesn't announce its presence it will simply sit and gather (virtual) dust in some computer's memory.

If you've convinced yourself that you need to enter the web marketing arena, the following report provides a fundamental primer on the most widely used tactics for both paid and free Internet advertising. Just remember that each of the topics introduced here is complex enough that there are entire books written about them, so if something appeals to you do some additional research before jumping in.

Before You Start

There are two main questions you must ask yourself before starting any marketing efforts, whether on- or offline: "Who is my audience?" and "What are my objectives?"

Audience

The audience for most business marketing activities is obviously past, present, and future customers. However, as in traditional advertising and marketing, it helps to narrow down who you are trying to reach, segmenting your market by age, geography, gender, interests, occupation. Certain methods of Internet marketing, such as pay-per-click ads, allow you to target your customers based on this type of segmentation.

Objectives

We can assume that the overall objective of most marketing is to sell products and⁄or services, but you may have additional objectives for online marketing. These related objectives will hopefully end up driving increased sales, but they can be more subtle than simply asking customers to buy right now. For example, your online marketing plan might include goals such as these:

Support and increase visibility of your company's brand.
Improve search engine rankings.
Offer reference information related to your business sector.
Increase number of registered users or newsletter subscribers.
Drive traffic to your company website.

After defining your audience and marketing goals, you can begin to formulate an Internet marketing strategy and tactics. When getting into online marketing, it is important that you maintain brand consistency. Build on the reputation that you have already established. Your on-line presence should mirror that of your "brick and mortar" presence. Use the same logo and tagline so that people will understand that you are the same company. Having an online presence is a way to build on what you have already accomplished.

In the remainder of this report we'll look at the most common ways you can use the Internet to deliver your message and start increasing your sales.

websites

We won't get into the vast topic of how to build and manage a website, but if you aim to use the techniques described below, it is nearly essential to have one. Most of your marketing efforts will have a "call to action" that involves your audience visiting your website to research products or services, find contact information, sign up for a newsletter, or place an online order. Whatever you are asking people to do in your online promotions, make sure the website allows them to easily complete that task.

One other vital component of any business website is an analytics program (Google offers a fairly robust application free of charge), so you can track how well your marketing efforts are working and calculate the return on your advertising investment (ROI).

How can you develop an online presence at little or no cost? There are several companies that offer free site building tools and hosting services. If you go this route, select a company that has a proven track record, so your hard work isn't wasted when the company goes out of business or suspends the service. A couple of reliable options are Google Sites and Yola.

If you have any money in your budget at all, you should probably just spend the less than $100 per year it takes to buy a personalized domain name (for example, "mybusiness.com") and a Web hosting service. Another potential option, depending on your business and marketing goals, is to create a free blog (see below for more details). The most popular free blogging services as of this writing are WordPress and Blogger.

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