Online Marketing in Tough Economic Times

We all know in tough economic times we’re meant to continue to market and advertise our business. But when cash flow is down it can be easier said than done. However that doesn’t mean you have to stop marketing, it just means you have to be wiser with how you spend your money.

One of the great advantages of online marketing is that it is highly measurable. If you try a new marketing initiative and it doesn’t provide a positive return on your investment (ROI) then stop, or tweak the activity. If you find an online marketing initiative that works for your business increase your spend and watch your profit increase. There are also many online marketing activities that you can do in-house, again saving you valuable dollars.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to ways market yourself online. I’m going to talk about three options available to you but don’t let that stop you from trying others.

Pay Per Click Advertising

If you’ve heard of Google AdWords then you’ve heard of Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising. Pay Per Click ads are the sponsored ads you see on search engines such as Google or Yahoo! With Pay Per Click advertising you pay only when a customer clicks on your ad, regardless of how many times it’s shown. You select your keywords and set an amount you are prepared to pay if someone clicks on your ad. When a user searches for, or is using, a keyword you have bid for, your ad will appear on the right side of results pages under the heading Sponsored Links. If a user clicks on your ad you pay the amount you bid for that term.

Pay Per Click advertising is a great way to target hundreds of niche keyword terms for a relatively low cost. In addition it is highly targeted and the results are highly quantifiable. The benefit of this is targeted traffic to your website – i.e. the people visiting are looking for your services!

Pay Per Click advertising is also highly customisable. You can target specific geographic areas and set specific times (hours and days) for your ads to be displayed. You can also start with a budget as low as $1.00 a day.

Pay Per Click campaigns can be running within hours and is a great way to drive prospective customers to your website quickly.

Blogging

Blogging is a fantastic and cost effective way to promote your business and stay in touch with your customers and prospects. There is an initial cost in setting up a blog but once you’ve done that all it requires is time and effort on your part. There are many benefits of having a business blog:

  • Blogging is a great way to communicate with clients, customers and prospects. Whether it be talking about new products or services, company news or resolving an issue, you can communicate on a level not seen before.
  • A blog gives you a voice which in turn gives readers an idea of who you and your business are. Your goal is to then engage them enough to want to do business with you.
  • Blogging can help position you as an expert in your industry.
  • Blogs attracts links and can help you in your search engine rankings.

When setting up a business blog I always recommend incorporating it into your current website design. Integrating your blog into your existing website design ensures that it provides a consistency of your brand and identity. It also enables readers who enjoy your blog to wander into other parts of your website such as your services and how to contact you.

If you decide that blogging is for you then make sure you set aside some time each week to write posts as there’s nothing worse than a blog that’s not updated.

Social Networking Sites

Social networking is a more recent phenomena on the internet. A social network is an online community of people who share interests and/or activities. Most social networks are web based and provide a variety of ways for users to interact such as though posts, messaging and email.

If your target market is into social networking then communicating with them via this method is a fantastic way to interact with them, promote your business and get your message across. There are many ways social networking can benefit your business:

  • It allows you communicate with a far reaching audience and promote your business on a global scale.
  • It can help you build trust and promote yourself as an expert in your field.
  • It can help you connect with potential business partners and employees.

If you are thinking of using social networking sites to promote your business it’s important that you take the time to understand social networking and the right way to go about it. The internet can be a very unforgiving place and bad stories and promotions can spread like wildfire.

Two popular social networking sites are Facebook and Twitter.

Facebook

Facebook is one of the most popular social networking sites online. Facebook can be used to connect with people, stay in touch, post pictures, share links and exchange information. It can be used to connect friends, family and co-workers. Used smartly it can also be used to promote your business and connect with your prospects and customers using the many applications that are being developed. You can use Facebook to:

  • Create brand awareness.
  • Engage with your customers and communicate promotions, contests and events.
  • Announce new products.
  • Generate leads and acquire new customers.
  • Manage your online reputation.

With the enormous market share and number of new applications being developed Facebook is one social networking service I highly recommend you familiarise yourself with.

Twitter

When it comes to social networking sites Twitter is the new kid on the block. So what is it? Twitter is kinda like micro-blogging – basically you can say (or tweet) anything you like in 140 characters or less. You can follow other people’s Twitters and others, in turn, can follow you. So why would you want to use it? Good question. Like all marketing initiatives you need to first look at whether it’s for you. If your target audience is likely to use Twitter then you should be too. Twitter can help you to:

  • Connect and network with others in your industry.
  • Share thoughts and ideas with like minded people.
  • Stay in touch with customers and prospects.
  • Test out new ideas and get feedback on existing products and services.
  • Monitor what’s being said about you and your business.
  • Monitor what’s being said about your competitors.
  • Monitor your competitors if they’re on twitter.

There really isn’t enough space here to delve into Twitter too deeply but hopefully I’ve given you some food for thought. I’ll post some resources on our website (http://www.thinkprospect.com.au/articles/resources/) that will help get you started.

They are numerous other social networking services that could be worth a look. They include: MySpace, Flickr, LinkedIn and Friendster. It’s also worth researching your market and looking for niche social networking sites geared to your industry and target audience.

With all these ideas it’s important to measure and track their performance. Ditch the non performing, expand the successful, rinse and repeat.

Tough economic times may mean less dollars to spend on your business’s marketing but you can still find smart initiatives that can help you grow your business in a cost effective manner. And don’t forget that promoting your business and website now is helping you to establish your business and your brand for the long haul.

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Planning a Successful Website

As the internet has matured so have business’s requirements in a website. No longer is it enough to just have a website, or have a website that looks good. A website is now a vital part of a business’s marketing arsenal and is a valuable sales tool in itself. In order to ensure that the money spent you spend on your website is well spent and will provide a return on your initial investment you need to spend time planning your website and setting attainable goals.

This document will help you plan your website design and get you thinking about all the issues you need to address. It will also help you when talking to web design firms as you will be able to give them a clear idea of what you are after.

It Starts With the Planning

It probably goes without saying but the place to start is with the planning of your website. This can be broken down into four (4) main steps:

  1. Defining your website’s goals;
  2. Determining your target audience(s);
  3. Reviewing your competition;
  4. Determining you traffic sources.

Define Your Website Goals

The first place to start is by defining the goals of your website. This is also what you will measure to evaluate the success of the venture. Ask yourself what do you want to achieve with your site? Some goal suggestions:

  • To sell online?
  • To collect targeted leads?
  • To provide information about your products and services?
  • To brand yourself?
  • To provide customer support?
  • To entertain?
  • To build a community?
  • To receive advertising revenue?
  • To reduce printing and mail out costs?

When you define these goals bear in mind they don’t all have to be achieved at once. Your plan could involve a roll out of goals over a period of time.

Determine Your Target Audience(s)

Who is your target audience? This can be broken down into:

  • Primary Audience
  • Secondary Audience
  • Geographic Locations

Primary Audience

Your primary audience is who the majority of your website will be targeted to. Generally this will be one or two groups who are most important to your business and those you expect to receive the maximum return on your investment (ROI).

Secondary Audience

Your secondary audiences are everyone else you expect to visit your site. List as many of these as you can.

Geographic Locations

The beauty of the internet is that you don’t necessarily have to market just to your local area, unless you provide a service that is only available to your local area of course. If you are only targeting a local area again it is easy to focus on just that region. List all the geographic regions you would like to target – think local suburbs, states and countries.

Review Your Competition

The internet is a great tool to research your competition. Spend some time on your competitor’s websites and ask yourself:

Is the website professional looking?
Is it easy to work out who they are and what they do?
Is it easy to use? Can you find what you are looking for?
Would I do business with them based on their website?

It’s also important to remember that your competition offline may not be the same as your online competition. If you are wanting your website to rank in the search engines take some time to see what sites are currently ranking well for keywords relevant to your business. The top ranking sites are your online competition. Take a look at their websites and answer the questions above for them too. You may also need to consider what effort they took to reach the top of the search engines and talk to your web designer/search marketer about what will be required of your site to achieve similar success.

Determine Your Traffic Sources

Where will the visitors to your website be coming from? I’m not going to address offline marketing here just the online marketing as some of the options need to be considered before the site is designed so they can be done together – such as search engine optimisation (SEO.

Here are some of your online marketing options:

  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
  • Pay Per Click Advertising
  • Links on Partner Sites
  • Email Campaigns
  • Website Sponsorship
  • Forum Participation
  • Content Creation
  • Blogging
  • Other – you may have other ideas.

It’s important that you tell your web designer what online marketing strategies you are planning to use so they can take that into account if need be when developing your website.

Develop Your Online Strategy

All of the above will help you in deciding what information you should have on your website and how best to structure it.

Determine Your Website’s Content

Now is the time to decide on the content you want on your website. By content I am including text, images, illustrations, support documents and the like. Here are some of your options:

Product information – descriptions, specifications, photos, user manuals, warranties, reviews, pricing etc.

Online ordering help – payments accepted, shipping info, returns policy etc.

Service information – services offered, locations covered, warranties, pricing etc.

Company information – history, staff profiles, photos etc.

Contact details – address, phone and fax numbers, email addresses, contact names etc.

Location details – maps, parking options, opening hours etc.

News – business news, special offers, features etc.

Articles and resources – information to help support your offerings and educate your prospects and clients.

Forms – quote requests, contact forms, newsletter subscriptions etc.

Case studies – examples of successful work done to date.

Develop Your Website Structure

Often called an information architecture or site flowchart – the site structure is like the architect’s blueprint of the organisation and layout of your website. The content you want on your website will help determine the structure of the site. It’s best to break this down into main section which will then have sub-sections off of that.

As a starting point I’ve listed the main sections that most sites would have. This can be added to or deleted from as required.

  • Home - Products/Services - Product/Service 1

  • Product/Service 2

  • Product/Service 3

  • Product/Service 4

  • Company News

  • Resources

  • Articles

  • Guides

  • About Us

  • Contact Us

  • Site Map

This will give potential web design firms an idea of what is required in your website and will help them prepare a quote for you.

Putting It All Together

Once you have completed all of the above you are ready to have your website built. If you have not done so you will need to select a web design firm. Provide all the information you’ve put together from above, discuss your requirements and budget, provide examples of websites you like and talk to them to see whether they are a good fit for your business. You want a company that understands you and your goals and that you feel will help you ensure that your website is a success. With the right web design team and the planning you did using the above structure you;re sure to be on the path to a successful website.

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A Succesful Website Starts With the Strategy

It’s pretty obvious that any good house starts with a solid foundation. The same applies to a website. In order to ensure a successful website that achieves your goals you need to start with a solid foundation. You need to develop a sound website strategy that outlines your goals, target audience, market position, competitors and marketing efforts. This strategy, or blueprint, will help you and your web designer develop a website that will achieve you online goals.

Put it this way if you don’t know why you want a website, apart from because everyone else has one, how will you be able to measure your success? Quite simply you can’t.

So how do you develop your strategy? To get you started consider the following:

What Are Your Online Goals?

What are the goals of your website? What do you want to achieve?

  • Sell products online?
  • Build sales leads?
  • Reduce support costs?
  • Inform people?
  • Attract newsletter sign-ups?
  • Attract advertising revenue?
  • Brand yourself or your company?
  • To reduce time providing telephone support?

Once you’ve defined your goals you can set about working out how to achieve them and how to measure the results.

Who Is Your Target Audience?

Who is your website targeted to? Think about your audience and try to break it down in terms of:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Location
  • Income
  • Internet skills
  • Other

This will help you to determine your target audience which in turn will influence the look and feel of the website, whether you need to target an international, national or local market, what sort of pricing strategy to adopt, how easy the website should be to use and what sort of ongoing marketing strategies are required.

Who is Your Competition? How Are They Positioned?

Take the time to check out the competitive space. Questions to ask:

  • Who are your online competitors?
  • How do they position themselves?
  • How easy/hard is their website to use? Is it engaging? Compelling?
  • How are they positioned in the search engines? Can you compete?

How Will Prospective Customers Find You?

Once your site is built and launched you need to ensure a steady stream of targeted visitors. Now is the time to start looking at your ongoing marketing and what strategies you’ll need to adopt. Where will your prospects come from? Some to consider:

  • Search engines?
  • Word of mouth & referrals?
  • Offline advertising?
  • Online advertising?
  • Forum participation?
  • Blogging?
  • Other?

The answers to these questions will help you define your marketing strategy and your overall website strategy. For example if you feel search engines will be an important driver of traffic to your website it is vital that that is taken into account when your website is being designed.

By considering the above you’ll be able to put together a clear blueprint detailing your website strategy and how it should be implemented. And in the long run it will help you, and your web designer, create a successful website.

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If I Build It Will They Come?

I’ve been building websites for a long time. Over 12 years in fact. In the early days it was relatively easy to put up a site, let a few search engines know about it and voila – success! This was at a time when the web was new and the competition was lacking. It was a great time but not one I expected to last. And it didn’t.

These days having a website is no guarantee of success. It takes blood, sweat and… yep you guess it marketing to make your online venture a success. Unfortunately too many people still think if they put a site online the masses will flock to them. And then wonder why they don’t. It’s also a myth that people like to perpetuate. Put a site online and you’ll be making millions within days.

In reality your website needs to be carefully planned, built and marketed just like any other business venture. Start by defining your strategy and determining how you want to make money from your website. Make sure you choose a web designer who understands good design principles, usability, SEO and internet marketing. And last but not least develop your marketing strategy.

I’ll go over some of these strategies in future posts but for now at least consider:

  • Web Design – build a website that focuses on calls to action and conversions. Pretty ain’t enough.
  • SEO – make sure you build a search engine friendly website from the get go.
  • Pay Per Click Advertising – look at PPC advertising. It is a great way to drive traffic while you are waiting for your SEO results to kick in and long term can be a useful way to drive additional, targeted traffic to your website.
  • Online Newsletter – send out a regular newsletter.
  • Blog – start a blog.
  • Network.
  • Write articles for both online and offline publications.
  • Get links to your website.
  • Join online forums.
  • Write e-books.

This list is by no means exhaustive but it’s a good start. By creating a marketing strategy and working on it steadily you’ll achieve the online success you’ve been searching for. Good luck!

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Miriam Tackles the isms of SM

Social Media Marketing is currently the BIG thing in search marketing. I’ve heard both positives and negatives for it but until now now have not delved into it too deeply. Luckily
Miriam Ellis-Loraditch of Solas Web Design has taken the plunge with a great article talking to a number of search marketers, including me, about their experiences with Social Media Marketing.

There’s some great stuff in it and it’s well worth a read.

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