Online marketing is tough. There are so many businesses competing for attention that it is difficult to stand out from the crowd. The upside is that the World Wide Web provides ample opportunity to build your business for free…if you are willing to put in the time and effort.
Job #1: Search Engine Position
The primary goal for marketing online is to drive traffic to your website. More traffic equals more sales. The best way to achieve that objective is to show up at the top of the search engines. That is, when potential customers search for a product or service that you carry (your key words), your business should be on the first page, the higher up, the better. Even if your business serves only a local area, your customers need to find you easily on the web. The way this works is people enter, for example, “pest control Las Vegas” and the search engine returns websites that are optimized for those key words. The trick is to get your website to the top of that list.
There is not quick and easy way to get there. You cannot buy your way to the top of (or even into) search engines. The search engine companies like Google, Bing, and Yahoo use complicated, secret algorithms to determine which sites rank the hightest. The rules are ever-changing, mostly in an attempt to combat scammers. However, there are legitimate tools, referred to as SEO (search engine optimization), that can be worked to build your site’s status. For the most part, these tools cost no money, but do require time, effort and patience to achieve.
Most people understand SEO to be about placing the right keywords on your website pages and setting the appropriate tags for the search engine crawlers to find. While these factors are important, there is a lot more you can do by utilizing other existing websites to get the word out about yours. One of the factors that all search engines rely on are the number of links back to your site from other, well-ranked websites.
Social Networking and Bookmarking Sites
As soon as your website is posted, even if it is a “coming soon” page with a limited description, begin spreading the word. Start with the popular social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. Users of these sites can create or join professional groups and post business pictures and videos. Join in with forum discussions relevant to your business. Be sure to include a link back to your website, when possible, but do not spam the boards. That is, be sure you respond appropriately to the question or discussion. If you just post your link to every forum, you will be kicked off the networking site and develop a bad reputation for your business.
Other users can join your business’s profile and be kept up-to-date on your postings. Twitter and Tumblr also allow users to keep tabs on what is happening with you and your business. These networking sites take a while to build up, but over time can be an effective tool for virtual word-of-mouth marketing.
Other websites, called social bookmarking sites, allow you to select and bookmark noteworthy web pages or news articles for others to view. These bookmarks also allow comments from other users — a great opportunity to market your own business. Of course, be sure to stick to relevant topics and offer pertinent comments. The same rules apply here as with other social sites. Some of the more popular bookmarking sites include Digg, Del.icio.us, Reddit, Mixx, Fark, and StumbleUpon.
Content is King
Building content on and off your site is critical. Whatever your business idea, there is a lot that your target market doesn’t know about what you do. In a bizarre twist of modern consumerism, your customers expect free information or free samples before they buy. Your site should contain enough valuable, relevant, free information to get your potential market interested in your product. For most products, tell them why they need it and how they will benefit from purchasing your product. Write articles about particular features or uses. Write product reviews of the products you sell. Start a blog that discusses relevant news articles or opinions of interest to your target. Then, post announcements of these articles to your social networking sites.