Spring 2009
The Web as Marketing Tool

You have heard it mentioned often enough by now: The Internet is a great, cost-effective way to promote your business. Problem is there are billions of websites jockeying for position and attention. Trillions of pieces of e-mail are sent out each year. Worse, the average person is bombarded with thousands of advertising messages every day.

So how do you get yourself heard over all that noise? More important, how do you grow your business through this medium? First, you need compelling website copy with solid content and attention-grabbing headlines. If you don’t know how to write good Web copy, hire a consultant or writer who can help you. Remember, your website needs to work for your store. Don’t pinch pennies here or be a lone ranger. Your job is to develop the promotional strategy that works best for your store and target market.

You also need a way to capture site visitors’ contact information. Design your website so that net surfers stay long enough and are willing to share information. Offer a coupon for a certain percentage of sales in exchange for a valid email address. Most of your online marketing and sales will come from this email list.

Here are some additional strategies to consider when promoting your store on the web:

Create online press releases that drive traffic (if not lots of free publicity). A well-written press release with an engaging story line could create a significant increase in site traffic and generate hundreds or thousands of incoming links. Remember, incoming links improve your website’s popularity, which search engines use to move your site up in Internet searches. There are online wire services that are fee-based (businesswire.com) or free (prweb.com) for distribution of your press releases. This is much less expensive than a pay-per-click ad campaign. As an added bonus, you could get free publicity from the media. Press releases are worth considering because you gain visibility and credibility as an expert in your field. Press releases can be used to announce the arrival of new stock in your store, the launch of a new event or to announce potential community partnerships that you might choose to forge. A word of caution: Press releases that are thinly disguised ads will land in the trash.

Submit articles to websites that cater to your target market. Do you want to become known as an expert in your field? Think about publishing well-researched, content-rich, helpful articles in others’ e-zines or newsletters, or in other websites relevant to your industry and/or your target market. This gives you wider presence on the Web and builds your reputation. Which ones should you contribute to? Research Web e-newsletters carefully to determine their quality and how well they match your market. This takes more time, but it pays off in the end.

Create a blog about your store. A blog is a powerful, cost-effective alternative to a website or email newsletter. Your information can be fresh, up-to-date, and targeted at your niche market(s). You can also create more than one blog, each targeted at a different market. It is a quick and easy way to build your presence on the Web, connect and engage with your current customers, and find new ones. There are online companies that help you set up your blog and make it easy for you to maintain it. Fees for hosting range from $4.95 to $29.95 per month depending on the package you choose. You can also create one for free and maintain it on your own website. Before you start blogging, investigate what you plan to do with your blog, what your focus is, and whom you plan to reach. Read other blogs to get the flavor and spirit of what small business folks are writing and asking about.

If you’re not ready to create your own blog try this: Research and identify a few quality blogs that relate to your industry and target market. To find out which blogs have a lot of traffic go to www.alexa.com. Then identify three to five quality blogs and post solutions to problems raised or simply enter the discussion. Always include your name, business, and website in your signature. This will get your website more traffic.

Make strategic use of pay-per-click advertising. What is pay-per-click advertising? Pay-per-click (PPC) is an Internet advertising model in which advertisers only pay when a user actually clicks on an ad to visit the advertiser’s website. Advertisers bid on keywords that they think their particular target market would use to search for a product or service. When someone types a keyword query matching the advertiser’s keyword list, the advertiser’s ad may appear on the search results page. So, for example, if you own a gift shop based in Austin, TX, the keywords you could bid on would be “gifts” and “Austin.” Then any potential customer who punches these words into a web search engine will probably see your ad and can be directed to your website. These ads are known as sponsored ads and appear next to—and sometimes above—search engine results on the page.

As an advertiser you can expect to pay from $0.01 up to $0.50 or more per click. Very popular search terms can cost much more on popular engines. The purpose is to drive traffic to your website through your ad that will be seen by many. It is critical that your ad clearly states what products you sell and how competitively you do so. Users are specifically searching for a particular service or product. If your PPC campaign is well targeted, you will reach an engaged and ready audience.

The challenge for retailers like you is that keyword search is everyone’s front door into the Internet. And it’s hard to compete against the big companies who can pay more for keywords. Therefore, it is essential that you choose a unique phrase that applies specifically to your business. For example: stationery gift shop in Phoenix. Try out several phrases; just like a market niche, they can’t be too broad or too narrow.

It is extremely important to research how PPC will benefit your business, and especially how it fits into your marketing budget. Be sure to carefully track the return on investment. It is very likely that you could be paying more in advertising than you receive in sales. Start small and set a deadline for evaluating how well it is working. Track results carefully and decide whether it works. If not, stop the ads.

Advertise in e-zines or e-newsletters for high and frequent exposure. When you place an advertisement in a high-profile e-newsletter targeted to the market you want to reach, it is more likely that it will be read because the reader has requested the newsletter and trusts the source. It is also cost-effective. Research newsletters carefully and choose wisely. Then track the results of your ads. Keep running the ads that work and cancel those that don’t. In many e-newsletters the ads appear near the top of the page before the featured articles.

Remember: It is a waste of money to run an ad only one time. Repeat exposure is what works best in advertising.

Practice social or online networking. What is it? Social networking is the use of a website to connect with people who share personal or professional interests, a common place of origin, an education at a particular school, etc. Myspace.com is a well-known site that has become very popular. Many small business owners might think that these sites are just for fun. Not so. Social networking sites are becoming more and more popular with business folks who have little time to go to in-person networking events but want to develop a strong network of professional colleagues and make business contacts. Two business-oriented social network sites are Ryze.com and Linkedin.com, for which membership is free. As a member you can post your profile, biography, photos, list your interests, and identify your industry.

Most of the social network sites offer free resources and are very user-friendly. You can join groups in your industry or your geographic area. Ryze.com also offers a monthly fee ($9.95) for gold membership, which gives users advanced search capabilities and allows them to set up groups focused on their areas of interest. This is an easy, inexpensive way to make connections and create visibility and credibility. If you have a tight promotion budget, this is a strategy to consider.

Which of these strategies will fit into your marketing plan and budget? Select one or two to start, go slowly, track results, and stick with those that really work well. Remember: It is not about you, it’s about your customers: What products do they need or want? How do they want to be treated? Make it easy, fun, and productive for them to buy from you, and you’ll attract all the repeat customers you are looking for.

Adapted from THE ACCIDENTAL ENTREPRENEUR: 50 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Starting a Business © 2008 Susan Urquhart-Brown — All rights reserved. Published by AMACOM Books

Susan Urquhart-Brown is a business coach, who offers individual coaching and success teams for independent professionals who want to attract their ideal clients and build a profitable business. Susan’s business coaching expertise includes break through barriers, communication and negotiations skills, goal setting, business planning, streetwise marketing and accountability for success. Susan has 20 years of experience in career consulting, micro business coaching, marketing, speaking and training and has an Master of Arts Degree in Career Development from John F. Kennedy University. Susan is an adjunct instructor at Santa Clara University, University of California-Berkeley and John F. Kennedy University.

Editor’s Note: While having a dedicated e-commerce site is great, the strategies discussed in this article are helpful even if you maintain a basic website for your store solely for marketing purposes.

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