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?"
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.
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.
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.