This is the sixth in an ongoing series on buiding a Web site for your small business. Part 1 looks at essential elements of a business Web site. Part 2 offers basic site design guidelines. Part 3 tackles some advanced design issues.Part 4 examines social media tools for building traffic.Part 5 compares outsourcing against doing maintenance work in-house.
Having a Web site opens up the doors to all sorts of low-cost marketing opportunities for small businesses. Sometimes fledgling Web marketers can be overwhelmed by the embarrassment of riches that are available for next to nothing. The key to effective online marketing — whether it’s to drive visitors to your site or convert them to customers when they get there — is to keep it focused.
If you don’t, you might find that you’ve wasted a lot of time and effort preaching your marketing message to the wrong people in the wrong places. Or worse yet, you simply don’t know who you’re talking to — or why.
“A lot of folks simply don’t understand the potential of what can be done outside of simply posting a Web site,” John Gilbert, vice-president of the Digital Solutions Group for Bader Rutter & Associates, told TechNewsWorld. “Once you have done the basic block and tackle stuff, the next step is really leveraging the medium to stand out above crowd and get noticed. The beautiful thing is that just about everyone is a user of [the Web] — and a lot of things you can do are zero cost, other than your time.”
Following are some guidelines for learning how to get the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to marketing your site.
Understand Your Goals and Your Audience
Figuring out what you really want your Web site to do should be the number one question you ask yourself. “If you’re not clear on their goals up front, that’s unfortunate, because your [marketing] can get very fragmented and confusing,” Dan Hobin, CEO of G5 Search Marketing, a Web development, advertising and measurement company, told TechNewsWorld.
A good marketing manager will also know how to get the right message in the right hands for the best return on investment.
“Find out where your audience lives on the Web and go there,” Melanie Orndorff, social media account manager for the Cimarron Group, an entertainment marketing company in Los Angeles. “If you service model train enthusiasts, then find out the tools they are using to communicate with others.”
“Position yourself in places where your prospective buyers are going,” confirmed Linda Rigano, director of strategic alliances for ThomasNet, a New York-based marketplace for industrial suppliers. These can include association newsrooms and community forums, trade magazine sites, RSS feeds, industry-related blogs — anything that speaks to your intended demographic.
It’s important to have the right tools to measure the results of your marketing efforts. “If your goal for your Web site is to generate new business by phone, make sure you can measure that,” Hobin said.
In addition to the usual suspects — Google Analytics et al — there are complementary tools that can help you keep tabs on the effectiveness of your marketing outreach. These include such things as dynamic phone number generation and dynamic couponing to help you track what ad sources provide you with the best leads.
Open the Lines of Communication
Web sites offer the opportunity for you to engage in conversations with your existing and potential customers, whether creating or contributing to blogs, visiting forums to add your two cents’ worth, or posting your company’s latest news on social networking or association sites.
“The Web is either the start of the conversation, or is the conversation,” Hobin explained. “You need to ensure you have the tools on your site to have a fluid and meaningful conversation.” He suggests that where appropriate, set up a portion of your site for blogs and customer feedback.
Keeping pace with the blogging community and social networking services can be extremely time consuming however, so it is important to be strategic in where and how often you want to do this type of thing.
In engaging customers, it is also important that you do it in a way that touches them personally, Orndorff said. For every type of business, that can mean a very different thing.
“If you’re a massage therapist, you can post updates on blogs through an e-newsletter to give your audience a sense that you are a live person and show the human side of your business.”
Listen and Learn
The fact that your Web site is a communications medium also means you have to pay close attention to the feedback and adapt to maximize its effectiveness. If your tracking tools tell you a particular market or ad campaign isn’t passing muster, change it.
If customers are abandoning your site within seconds of arriving, look into what adjustments you can make to engage them. And if no one is talking about you, or posting negative feedback, don’t ignore them. However, be careful in deciding where, when and how to engage in the right conversations.
Leverage the Tools That Work for You
There are many free and low-cost tools that can help you to drive traffic to your site and generate sales — from sponsored links and search marketing services to setting up pages on social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
Services such as Google AdWords have become a powerful and effective marketing tool for small business owners, notes Deanna Yick, a spokesperson for Google. The key to getting the most out of services such as AdWords include taking the following steps:
- Knowing the right audience for your products and services
- Structuring each campaign based on a simple goal, such as a product category, product line or theme
- Choosing powerful keywords that resonate with your target audience
- Including a strong call to action to draw people to your site
- Targeting individual campaigns according to a specific audience and/or geographic region
- Continually reviewing your online advertising and making changes when needed
Keep It Simple
This mantra holds true for just about any marketing effort related to your Web site — whether it’s tracking leads or reaching out and touching your community with your blog. Experts say that the best advice they can give to any small business is to approach Web marketing in bite size pieces, keep measuring the results, and then build on your strategy from there. You could test the waters with the basic tried and true tools such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and build your strategy from there.
Also, don’t be afraid to take advantage of multimedia opportunities to extend your marketing reach, Gilbert said. “The potential for reuse of content at almost no cost is very, very high. If you are presenting at a trade show for example, why not record your presentation and digitize it for redistribution? Podcasts can be very simple and effective marketing tools.”
Deliver On Your Promise
“It’s critical that your site meets your customers’ needs when they come looking for you,” said Janet Tarzia, executive director of marketing for ThomasNet.
Marketers should also never underestimate the importance of the usability and searchability of a site. These are integral to turning exploration exercises into bona fide sales. Just as important is a rapid response mechanism or strategy of some kind is critical, since potential or existing customers can be quickly turned off by a lengthy delay to their inquiries.
Speak to Experience
Anyone who has any doubts on the effectiveness of a low cost Web marketing campaign in drumming up business should ask Catherine Simms, the owner of Whiner & Diner in Stamford, Conn. — a home-based, online provider of eco-friendly pet products.
Since starting her site in December 2006 in Microsoft Office Live Small Business, she has spent virtually zero dollars on her marketing efforts.
What she has done is work diligently on visiting pet-related forums, posting blogs, and contributing articles to free sites such as Ezine Articles. She has also set up pages on Facebook and MySpace, and tracking customer feedback with the SiteMinder feature of Office Live.
Her efforts have led to a 100 percent increase in sales and interest from customers in Spain, Italy and Europe. “I may have no staff and no overhead, but I’ve received tons and tons of attention just by commenting on blogs and contributing to forums,” she told TechNewsWorld. “Even with the economy, I did very well at Christmas. It takes time, but it works.”