Internet Marketing 101: Online Marketing for Small Business

Introduction

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.

Table of Contents

websites

E-Mail

Newsletters

Other Announcements

Search Engine Marketing and Display Advertising

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Pay-per-Click (PPC)

Display Advertising

Social Media and Networking

Decide: Who, What, Where, When, and Why?

YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Etc.

Twitter

Blogs

Forums & Discussion Groups

Article Placement / E-Zines

Other Internet Marketing Outlets

Wikipedia

Directories

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.

E-Mail Newsletters

E-mail newsletters provide one of the most highly performing avenues for marketing. You can collect customer e-mail addresses by asking visitors that come to your website to subscribe, by requesting e-mail addresses from anyone who visits your physical location, or by purchasing an e-mail list. To generate a higher rate of readership, make sure the audience is narrowly targeted and has some vested interest in your product. By sending out your newsletter on a regular schedule (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.) you can counteract the transient and temporary nature of Internet users by continually reminding them of your company’s existence. Affordable services like Constant Contact can be used to manage mailing lists, statistics, and opt-in/out functions.

Caveat: Sending commercial e-mail messages to people who have not agreed to receive your mailings can result in severe fines and penalties from the federal government per terms of the CAN-SPAM Act.

Newsletter content should appeal to your defined audiences, with industry- or product-related news and events, company-specific news and events, practical reference information, and interesting statistical and demographic information. The newsletter copy should publicize links to appropriate pages within your website.

You will need to maintain one or more separate lists for the purpose of sending targeted messages to particular audiences (see Other Announcements below). You might combine all your lists to send a monthly newsletter, and send other bulletins to past or potential customers as appropriate.

Other Announcements

Other announcements are e-mailings that can consist of press releases, coupons, special notices, or anything you want to communicate specifically to members of one or more e-mail lists.

Search Engine Marketing, Pay-per-Click and Display Advertising

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization means constructing a website that is easily crawled by search engine spiders, and it encompasses a variety of techniques designed to improve your site’s (or page’s) ranking in the search engine results page. The goal is for your site to be found by searchers who are looking for sites related to a certain keyword or phrase, for example “little red wagon” if you are in the business of selling toy wagons. SEO can be divided into on-page activities (e.g., amount of content, metadata, links, programming methods and structural issues) and off-page activities (most importantly, obtaining links from other websites to your site).

Pay-per-Click (PPC)

Pay-per-click advertising refers to text ads displayed on search engine results pages (versus “organic” results achieved by SEO) and other sites, usually in the margins. In the case of Google AdWords and Microsoft’s adCenter, you can open an account and specify the keyword(s) that, when searched for, will generate an ad that links to your website. You pay only when a searcher clicks an ad and is directed to your site. In the example below, the key phrase is “little red wagon,” and pay-per-click ads are located at top (in yellow) and in the right-hand column (subtitled “Sponsored Links”). The first organic listing is “Little Red Wagon Foundation.”

A few of the benefits of PPC advertising are that you know exactly how many people view your ads, how many of those viewers click through to your website, and (if you are using a site analytics tool) what they do once they reach your site. You can also start and stop running ads at a moment’s notice, experiment with any number of ads you like, and fund your campaign with as little as $10 to start.

Display Advertising

Display advertising, also called banner advertising, means purchasing ad space on another website and placing a text and/or graphic ad with a link to your site. This technique is generally more complex and expensive than pay-per-click, but can be very powerful if the right message is shown to a tightly focused audience. To achieve optimal click-through rate (CTR), advertise on websites where you assume your target audience is visiting, rather than a general interest website. Most marketers don’t purchase ad space directly from another website, but use a banner ad network to automatically place ads on appropriate websites. A couple of the biggest names in display ad serving are DoubleClick and BurstMedia.

Social Media and Networking

Social networking is the latest buzz in the modern marketing arsenal. If you have any doubt about its impact, especially on the under-40 population, read this list. Small businesses with limited resources should weigh their time spent and the potential benefits carefully, however. It can also be difficult to measure the return on your investment for some of these tactics.

The general principle of “marketing” on social networking outlets is that people who have similar interests will virtually congregate around Web content that discusses that interest. They may be interested in product information in the form of reviews or personal opinion, but hard sale approaches are mostly discouraged and unproductive. Your goal is to become a trusted advisor-which usually means revealing your identity and at least some part of your personality. If that premise makes you uncomfortable, you might still find social networking sites valuable for market research purposes. Find out what people are buying and why, then use that information to help shape your other marketing activities.

The following section describes the more popular social media outlets and sites, but keep your eyes open for new virtual spaces where you might get more attention by getting in on the ground floor.

YouTube, Facebook, Etc.

YouTube allows you to post videos on your own “channel,” a distinct Web page that can be customized and allows for posting links back to your own website. A major positive aspect of this venue is that the number of views is posted and viewers can submit comments, so you know whether your videos are popular and why.

Facebook is considered the model for modern social networking sites. Facebook allows you (individual, corporate, non-profit, etc.) to create a page, attract “likes” and reviews, communicate with followers by posting status updates, photos and videos, and so on.

Although the previously named sites are the most popular in terms of visitors, there are a couple of business-oriented networking sites that may be more useful for making business connections. LinkedIn helps you develop a network of clients, service providers, and subject experts; find business opportunities and partners; post job openings; and more. More detailed advice on best practices for using LinkedIn can be found in many online articles and blogs.

Twitter

Think of Twitter as a mini-blog (see below) that allows you to broadcast messages of 140 characters or less. The messages appear to your “followers” on their phones or computers, as well as on Twitter.com. The biggest challenges are to gain a useful number of followers and to think of something engaging to write to them. If you are a speaker, writer, or performer Twitter can be used to let your fans know what you’re doing and when. If you have a retail store you might let your followers know that you’re offering a discounted item or running a special sale. You should post a Twitter sign-up link on your website, and within your signature line in outgoing e-mail messages. You can also gain followers by following people who work in or comment on your industry, as some Twitter users will follow those who follow them.

Blogs

The word blog originally came from the term “Web log.” There’s no real standard for what a blog is, but most commonly authors use them to comment on (and link to) other online news items, websites, or other Internet content. For the most part, direct selling on a blog is frowned upon and is probably a recipe for driving away potential readers. What do you write about, then? Well, if you run an Internet marketing firm you write about trends in Web marketing, what the search engines are up to, tips for do-it-yourselfers, or what you thought of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Seriously, read some blogs and you will find all sorts of personal opinion mixed in with professional advice and commentary. The goal of your blog, however, should most likely be to establish yourself as an expert and trusted advisor in your chosen field.

You might also pursue getting your products, services, or website mentioned in related blogs by other industry experts. When a high-visibility blogger mentions a website on his or her blog, the site is exposed to a potential audience of new viewers. Often, blog postings are simply press releases that are picked up by sites that discuss topics related to a particular product or industry. More opportunities (and traffic) in this arena can be realized by developing relationships with individual bloggers.

Additional Tips:

  • Post an article that was written by someone else, just be sure to provide a link to the original article and give credit to the person wrote it. You can then give your commentary on the topic of the article or find a way to relate the information to local trends or challenges.
  • Ask colleagues to be “guest bloggers” by writing articles for you to post, again giving them credit and adding their byline and a link to their website. Using links is a good way to drive additional traffic to their sites so it’s a good trade-off for both parties.
  • Nick Francesco of AskNick.com said, “A blog gets people’s attention and Twitter keeps it.” Consider using these two outlets together.

Forums & Discussion Groups

A forum (also known as discussion group, message board or bulletin board) is a component of a website where users can ask questions, offer advice, or share experiences with others about a certain topic or topics. Nearly every hobby on earth has a number of popular forums wherein members offer their thoughts and feelings on all aspects of their favorite pastime. Contributing a comment (with a link to your website) in discussion groups related to your products or services can create a small surge or spike in traffic, but usually has little long-lasting effect. To maximize effectiveness, target forums on high-traffic sites that have 1,000+ users, and reply to topics with larger numbers of views (relative to other posted topics).

You can easily build your own bulletin board/forum component on your site with free or low-cost software. User forums have the potential to greatly increase the “stickiness” of a site, given a critical mass of traffic required to generate new discussions and keep participants interested in returning. You can start by “seeding” topics on your own, but there won’t be any results until traffic is directed to the forums. The conundrum for small businesses may be the time required to moderate a forum once it becomes successful. One solution is to seek out a volunteer moderator who exhibits a keen interest in your field. A sample of a baseball trading card forum is shown in the screen shot below.

Article Placement / E-Zines

Another avenue for generating incoming links and traffic to your site is the free article market. Article submission (or e-zine) websites allow you to publish articles on a variety of topics. Examples include EzineArticles and ArticleCity.com.

Depending on terms of use, these articles may be used as content on other websites, or collected on the site where submitted. The main objective of most article contributors is to increase their search engine rankings with the placement of backlinks on other reputable sites. Providing reliable and accurate reference information is secondary, and the traffic potential from article readers is questionable.

Obtaining links from article submission sites isn’t likely to improve your site’s search engine rankings much. However, existing content from a print newsletter or other written material can be re-purposed with a relatively small time investment. Be aware that creating articles from your website’s content verbatim may cause search engines to penalize your site, as the search engines take a dim view of text that is republished multiple times (“duplicate content” in search engine optimization terms). Submitting articles to sites with the most traffic will give your site the best chance to be discovered by new readers.

Caveat: Once an article is submitted, you have little or no control over who uses your content and for what purpose, depending on the copyright policies of the site on which the article is posted.

Other Internet Marketing Outlets

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is, essentially, an online encyclopedia. The unique aspect of Wikipedia is that users generate the content, though content must be approved by volunteer editors. Traffic will grow if and when others link to the entry. If you add content, your time commitment will be relatively minor, and the benefits might include improved search engine ranking and a slight increase in traffic to your site. As with other forms of Internet communication, a Wikipedia entry that is essentially a commercial for a product, service, or company will not be viewed positively and is unlikely to be approved by editors.

Directories

Online directories allow Internet users to browse through categories of topics to find websites related to a certain subject. There are directories for businesses, blogs, websites in general, and more. Many directories are free, and some only list you if you pay. The mother of free directories is the Open Directory Project, and by all accounts the best paid directory for business is the Yahoo! Directory ($299 annually). Be aware that you might wait a long time for some of the free directories to list your site, as they may rely on volunteer screeners. Directories not only allow consumers to find you in their listings, they also help get your site indexed in the major search engines. If you submit your site to a directory, make sure to read the submission guidelines and follow them exactly.

Image Optimization for SEO – Best Practices

Quality content is the key to SEO success. Content doesn’t just mean your text contents. Images must be an integral part of your content strategy. At times, single images can be far more effective than your 1000 word blog post. It also helps you improve blog post quality and performance.

Images, Infographics, Videos and all other multimedia contents on your web page will help you in increasing the user engagement on your site and makes the visitors stay on your site for longer duration which helps in reducing the bounce rate.

Not just adding images to your contents, you should also optimize those images for better SEO performance. Optimization of images must be the one important aspect of your on-page SEO process.

If you are using images in your content, there are many aspects to be considered related to SEO.

Relevancy

Using images doesn’t mean that you should fill up your content with loads of pictures. You should use it only when it is required and also you should use images that are more relevant to your content.

Placement of your images is an another important aspect. It should be placed at a relevant location in your content according to your text content.

Use original images

Originality always helps in improving your user experience and your authority. Usage of original images will be helpful in improving your SEO performance. You can create original images with a graphic designer or you can take your own photographs with a quality camera. It is the reason top White hat SEO companies employ talented graphic designers for creating quality images.

If you are not able to employ an in-house graphic designer or if you are running out of time, you can always use high quality images from the web. But the important factor to be considered is it should be copyright free.

There are many tools available for getting copyright free images without any cost. The most popular ones are Unsplash, Flicker, Freeimages.

Image Size

Images are the main source for damping your site’s speed. And site speed is a crucial factor in your SEO performance. So, you should be extra cautious in using images without compromising your page speed.

It should not also affect your image quality, you should have a correct balance between. You can achieve this by reducing the file size by compression. You can use tools like Photoshop for compression.

File name

Search engine crawlers are visually impaired, it can even interrupt a 5000 word text content, but it cannot interrupt a single image and what the image is about. It is the reason using a keyword rich file names for your images is an important aspect in image optimization.

Google bots and other search engine crawlers can read your image’s file name and if it is named with your target keyword, it gives a signal to search engines about the image topic and thus helps your SEO performance.

For example, if your image is related to selling sports shoes, rather than using the file name as “IMG_89868″ you can use it as “Black_Tennis_Shoes”.

Alt text

Similar to the file name, search engines can read Alt text of the images. Alt text is known as “Aleternative Text”, is an HTML attribute used to describe the content of images.

You should use Alt text which is relevant to your images and it should be clear and descriptive. You can use your target keywords in the Alt text but be cautious about Keyword stuffing.

If you are not focusing on Image optimization, you are missing a huge opportunity in improving your SEO performance. You can use above mentioned best practices in your on-page optimization process.

The Pros And Cons Of Affiliate Marketing

Making money is a priority for everyone. After all, just about everyone could use a bit of extra money right? Well, today, more and more people are turning to the lucrative field of affiliate marketing to make cold hard cash. In fact, many Gurus argument that there is a lot of money to be made with promoting other people's products. However, as a newbie Affiliate Marketer myself, I can tell you that there are some advantages and disadvantages to this business model. In this article, we'll discuss both.

First of all, if you do not know what affiliate marketing is, do not feel bad, I did not either at first. Affiliate marketing is basically a cooperative agreement between a merchant, and an online affiliate. The affiliate gains contracts by providing customers to the merchant.

There are typically three payment structures for affiliates. With pay per click payment structures, affiliates are paid when the customer visits the merchant from the affiliate's site. On the other hand, per lead payments are made when an affiliate reiter someone to the merchant's site and that person fulfills the required action. For instance, let's say you're an affiliate for an insurance company who pays you when prospects fill out an application. In this instance, you'll be paid when someone submits a valid application which is called paid per lead. The third type is called pay per sale. During this instance, an affiliate is paid only when a potential customer purchases the merchant's item.

Advantages of affiliate marketing:

o Money, money and more money. There is a lot of money to be made with affiliate marketing and many people make great incomes promoting other people's products and services.

o You can be your own boss. You work when you feel like it, or when you are able to. You basically write your own paycheck with the amount of work you can do. When you need extra earnings for holidays, or paying a really huge bill, you just invest more time into marketing products and make more money.

o Promote what you love. You can promote any product that you want to promote. There are literally millions of products to choose from, you simply have to find one that you like and go for it. In fact, some affiliate marketers test out niches and then produce their own competitive or complimentary products. By thinking outside the box, they are able to rake in even more money.

o Earn money while you sleep. You earn money continuously, even when you're not on the computer. You do not have to monitor your work with an affiliate program, because the customers will go to the merchant's sites whenever you are online or not. In fact, you can even make money while you were sleeping … what could be better than that?

Disadvantages of affiliate marketing:

Now that we've discussed the advantages of affiliate marketing, we'll now discuss the disadvantages.

o Hard to find good products. It can be tricky to find a product that is worth promoting. There are literally millions of products that you could promote and it is sometimes hard to focus in on just one.

o Dishonest merchants. It can be difficult finding a merchant or vendor that is really honest and legitimate. In fact, there are some merchants who are dishonest that they lie and refuse to give you credit for your referrals. In some cases, these merchants would rather shut down their businesses than pay up. And, the bad thing is that affiliates basically have little recourse whatever.

o Lots of competition. There is a lot of competition among affiliate marketers, especially for the good products. In fact, some technically savvy affiliate marketers have even figured out clever ways to steal commissions using special equipment. Although there are some precautionary measures affiliate can take, this can be quite problematic.

o It's not your product you're promoting. As an affiliate marketer, you are basically promoting someone else's product or service so your responsibilities are in their hands. If they decide to quit the program or reduce the responsibilities, you'll have no say so whatsoever.

In conclusion, there are advantages and disadvantages of being an affiliate marketer. Although there is great potential to make substantial income, marketing other people's products, puts you at a disadvantage. Therefore, your best bet is to take your time, test it out and build your own product so that you can get others to market it for you. That way, you'll be the one calling the shots.

The American Jobs Act, Unemployment Discrimination and Employment Brand

Online recruiting organizations: Are you ready to stop hiding from candidates? You should be. Your brand depends on it.

With The American Job Act currently before Congress, employers would be subject to EEOC discrimination claims if they fail to hire an unemployed candidate based on the fact that they are not currently employed. The notion was hatched as a backlash against the perception that employers do not want to hire unemployed workers.

That’s a specific law with a specific target, but if you peel the layers back, it’s the first salvo fired out of frustration from a country full of candidates that are tired of being treated badly by the people, systems and processes that have grown up around recruiting in the last 10 years.

I get it. Recruiting organizations are under siege by way too many qualified candidates for the positions they have. More importantly, they’re under siege by way too many completely UNqualified candidates.

While not considering candidates that are unemployed may cut your candidate pool down to a manageable size, it’s not smart from a branding standpoint. Unless your employment brand is cold and cutthroat, you should embrace all candidates. You should treat them with respect and you should engage as many of them as possible.

Everyone wants a fair shot. That’s just part of being human. And when sweeping generalizations like “we don’t consider unemployed candidates” take hold, or faceless applicant tracking systems process bits and bytes and spit out rejection emails (often delayed to appear like the candidate was considered by a human), then the appearance of a fair shot disappears.

Candidates are customers. Candidates are voters. Candidates are individuals capable of expressing their frustration to large numbers of other individuals through social networking.

Here is and actual tweet I came across the day after writing this article: “@jimcramer FYI you herd it here first, Taleo is keeping the unemployed… unemployed.”

Obviously, not everyone is qualified. And every recruiter has tales of resume spammers and unqualified, unprepared candidates sucking their time. But the fact is, if you appear not to care about candidates, then your brand suffers. And now with an entire nation who is totally focused on getting people placed in jobs, delivering bad candidate experiences is asking for more Federal regulations governing how you interact with candidates.

There is a quietly growing awareness in the industry that candidate satisfaction matters. There is a faint notion growing that engaging candidates and trying to ensure that they are communicated with and treated with respect and reverence, will actually result in a more effective recruiting process.

There are tools available that allow organizations to engage candidates and solicit feedback throughout the recruiting process. Companies can now listen to how candidates feel about their recruiting process from beginning to end, track satisfaction and fine tune practices to make them as effective as possible.They sit on top of a company’s career site pages and asks candidates what they think, in real time and with appropriately times follow up surveys.

Without fail, candidates regularly comment “Thank you for asking my opinion.” So when I say treating candidates with respect helps your employment brand, I speak from experience. Your “Best Place to Work” badge is fine, but it just lays there. Asking a candidate what they think about how they’ve been treated? That shifts the earth a little bit and provides evidence that you have a great place to work.

Plus it provides a goldmine of ideas about how to better interact with candidates, tweak your career site and make your online recruiting efforts more effective for passive candidates. The one’s who already have jobs. The one’s you were targeting that got the White House involved in messing with your business in the first place.