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.

Learn All About Italian Cooking In Italy

Do you wish to visit Italy? Do you live near or in Italy as a permanent resident? Are you a resident of place near to Italy? Do you dream of enhancing your cooking skills or learn how to cook?

Have you ever heard of Italian cooking classes? These Italian cooking classes would help you cook delicious and world famous Italian recipes with ease. If you are a tourist and is planning a trip to Italy then you should consider including Italian cooking classes in your trip. This would not only be an enhancing activity that is wonderful but would be beneficial for you all your life. What could be better than learning Italian cooking classes in Italy. There are people in Italy who are proficient in prepairing Italian food and can hence provide you with greatest techniques and tips.

If you live in or near Italy then you should not miss this wonderful opportunity. This could be your new hobby or interest that would benefit you all your life. If you dreamed to become gourmet Italian chef in any phase of your life then Italian cooking classes are the best solution for all your needs and requirements. You would get what you are searching for in Italian cooking classes!

If you are searching for information on Italian cooking classes then you can use internet for the same. Various websites or blogs are there on the internet to assist you in this task. You get various types of information that includes list reviews, student satisfaction and cost comparisons. Some also undertakes the responsibility to inform you of class curriculums. You can also view the information about the professors and their accomplishments or experience. In any of the case, you would be endeavored with informative activities or about the open house learning.

It is worth exploring your desires, interests and dreams. You cannot ascertain the benefits of attending Italian cooking classes in Italy. Some join these cooking classes to impress their friends or family by their extraordinary dishes while others take it as a passion of their life. There are people who just want to join a new activity to spend some time with their loved one or a friend and some take is seriously as their career. Whatever are your needs or requirements from Italian cooking classes you would definitely be able to accomplish that.

There are people who do not believe in online classes and wish to attend a class physically. For such people it would be an opportunity to meet wonderful people who also share the common interest for Italian cooking. This could be one of the best way to make friends of common interest. You can share your experiences and learn a lot from your colleagues or friends. If you are a novice just like them then you can easily struggle with recipes and adjust to the environment easily.

How Closing Accounts Can Kill Your Credit Score

One of the major factors of how your credit score is calculated is your capacity. This is the ratio of credit used to the amount of credit that is available. This accounts for 30 percent (almost a third!) of your credit score. For example if you have 5 credit cards with a $1000 limit and you have 3 of them maxed out and 2 of them inactive your capacity would be at 60 percent, $3000 of your $5000 total credit limit. This is not good in the eyes of the lenders and your credit score would suffer because its ideal to be at 10 percent of your capacity.

Remember a credit score is a formula measuring your ability to pay back your debts and obligations. If you have a high capacity and little room left for your maximum then your ability to pay back your obligations is viewed as more limited.

So in the example above, lets say you decide to close the 2 inactive cards for whatever reason. Nowadays, the credit card companies will charge a fee to inactive cards so a lot of people are now closing their inactive accounts. Well unfortunately, they are killing their credit score. If you are maxed out on three cards and you close the other 2, guess what, you are now at 100 percent capacity because your total credit limit is now $3000 instead of $5000. I know from personal experience this will cause your credit score to plummet.

My advice? Don’t close your inactive cards. Use them once a month, maybe for gas, or treat yourself to a latte from Starbucks. Then pay them off immediately so you don’t incur any interest. Do what you can to pay off the cards that are maxed out, or at least get them down to where your balance is under 10 percent of the limit. If you can, try to transfer the balance to a lower interest card, so it can save you a few bucks on the interest. This strategy is sure to improve your credit score because capacity is a major factor, and if your capacity improves, your score improves.

Asking your bank for a credit limit increase on some of your cards isn’t suggested nowadays, this is a strategy that old credit repair people recommended but in today’s economy with the credit crunch, it prompts an account review, which for some quirky reason, may cause the banks to LOWER your credit limit. This would damage your capacity as well.

You are already disciplined enough to not spend on two cards. You are unique in today’s credit crunch world, use your discipline to your advantage, don’t close your accounts. You will be doing more harm to your credit score than good.

Baby Clothes Overstock and Clearance Items – Why Donating Makes Sense

Retail clothing storeowners inevitably face the same situation year after year – a surplus of last season's styles in some form or another. This is good news for the consumer, as prices on these items are typically slashed well below retail in order to make room for new products. But what to do with the clearance items that remain on the shelves well into the next season? Or what if there simply is not enough room to hang on to these items any longer once new products arrive? Storeowners who find them facing these questions may want to consider donating overstock and / or clearance items to a worthy charitable organization.

In many cases, making a sizeable donation will not only benefit the many people touched by the organization receiving your donation, it may make a positive impact on your bottom line by allowing your business a tax write-off at the end of the year. If you are considering making a sizeable donation, you may first want to contact your tax advisor to discuss how the donation would affect your tax scenario.

It is advisable to spend some time researching potential organizations prior to donating. There are seemlessly countless organizations out there that are willing to take donations of clothing and accessory items. When choosing an organization, make sure first and foremost that the organization is not-for-profit, as this ensures the potential tax-benefit of donating. It may be easier to locate large national organizations, but it is worth to research smaller local organizations as well. These local organizations often do not receive the level of exposure necessary to meet their demands at the same level as larger organizations. As is the case in so many situations, the internet is generally the best source of information for researching charitable organizations. In addition, consult your local phone book, and ask around. Chances are you already know someone who has some sort of connection to a local charity – use those connections!

Once you have selected a non-profit organization to receive your donation, it is important to obtain a single point-of-contact within the organization. This person can organize the receipt of your donation, which in many cases can be arranged to take place at your business or warehouse. It is a good idea to provide an itemized list of the donation, including wholesale value, to your point-of-contact at the time of the donation. This list will not only help to document inventory in your records, it will also be a helpful tool for the charity to reference while incorporating the donation items into their existing product supply. In turn, ask that they provide you with a "letter of receipt", acknowledging and referencing the value of the donation. This letter will provide documentation that will be needed to validate the tax write-off. Be sure to discuss the significance of this letter with your point-of-contact prior to making the donation, and follow-up soon as the donation is made to be sure the letter is generated in a timely manner.