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The essentials of online marketing

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June 13, 2010

The essentials of online marketing

Online marketing, an essential tool for any business today, should complement traditional marketing rather than replace it. Here are some pointers to help you make the most of your online marketing efforts.

Develop a strategy

Before making any investments in this area, you'll need a strategy. A flow chart or action map can help determine which steps come first. You'll need to be clear on your purpose. Is your goal to sell online, generate leads for offline sales or establish relationships for a service business? Each objective implies different steps. It can be helpful at this stage to think about what your business will look like in 2 or 3 years.

Once you have set out a vision of where you want your online marketing to take you, work backward to the beginning. The result should be a series of sequential steps with timelines that drive you toward your goal.

Take baby steps first. You can't do it all at once. Start with the easiest steps, then add more complex ones as you develop expertise. Along the way, set up milestones, or measurement systems, so you know whether your tactics are working.

The nature of your business will determine whether advertising or promotional marketing is best for your online marketing efforts. If you sell products online, advertising will probably meet your needs. If you are selling a service, promotion may be preferable.


Advertising

There are four main types of online ads. Which one you choose will depend on your business and objectives.

  • Banner ads can be horizontal, vertical or rectangular. Placed at the top, bottom or along the side of a web page, they're best for businesses looking for heavy traffic on their web sites and should be designed to grab users' attention
  • Button ads, smaller and subtler than banners, are usually placed in the middle, right or left side of a web page
  • Interstitial ads, including pop-ups, are ads that load between two content pages. These are coming to have less impact and value as web users become more sophisticated in finding ways to avoid such ads
  • Search engine ads now account for most web advertising because they are so highly targeted. Tied to keywords in online searches, ads in this category often use Google's AdWords or AdSense programs or services from other providers, such as Yahoo Search Marketing. Search Engine Watch provides more detailed information on this type of advertising

The cost of publishing an online ad can be calculated in a variety of ways. Sometimes, the cost is based on impressions or displays - the number of times an online ad appears on a computer screen. Often this will be expressed as a cost-per-thousand impressions (or CPM). A $10 CPM, for example, means each impression costs you $0.01 (or $10 divided by 1000.)

A pay-per-click (PPC) formula works differently: it charges a predetermined price each time a visitor actually clicks your ad, as opposed to simply viewing it. Likewise, a cost-per-action (CPA) pricing formula charges you only if the visitor takes some predefined action on your website.

In a pay-per-lead (PPL) arrangement, the charge is tied to a sign-up of some nature. This can be as simple as providing an email address or as complex as filling out detailed forms. Finally, a pay-per-sale (PPS) arrangement bases charges on actual orders or purchases.


Promotional marketing

Promotional marketing is another way businesses try to attract customers online, especially in the business-to-business sector, where the goal is usually to generate sales leads rather than transactions. Online promotional marketing comes in a variety of forms.

  • Content: This is website copy that is written to persuade or inform potential customers of the benefits of your service or product. Often, it includes material such as research papers and case studies. Such material usually needs to be updated frequently.
  • Linking: Some search engines rank web sites based on the number of other sites to which they are linked. For that reason alone, it's a good idea to include links on your web site to relevant information on other sites. Avoid "link farming" - the superfluous inclusion of links just to boost search engine rankings. Google goes so far as to ban sites that are suspected of link farming.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) has become the most common method of online promotional marketing and is closely linked to content. Website copy is written to include keywords that are popular in search engine queries, and a great deal of research and careful site design are usually involved. SEO tips can be found at the Microsoft Small Business Centre.
  • Article writing: Many small businesses raise their online profiles by writing expert articles for online services and e-newsletters. There are dozens of sites, such as e-zine articles, where such articles may be read and submitted. To reach a more targeted audience, find newsletters or magazines in a field related to your business, and submit your pieces directly to them. Articles should provide useful information and be presented in a format that is easy to read. At the end of each article, include a short description of your business with a link to your website.


Email marketing

Email has become one of the most commonly used marketing tools. When done right, this is an effective method of marketing; when done badly, it becomes unwanted spam, or junk email - a nuisance that authorities are trying to eliminate.


Direct email techniques

Email circles occur when entrepreneurs send emails to people they've been in touch with or whose business card they have obtained. These emails provide a way of deepening personal contacts. Typically they offer a service or point to useful information like a news story. This technique works best for service businesses with small customer bases.

Bulk emails can also be sent to targeted groups - to advertise sales or special offers, for example. Ensure only blind copies are sent so recipients' email addresses are not visible. This prevents spammers from harvesting the addresses.

In designing such campaigns, keep in mind how people read email. A person will typically spend 3 seconds reading an email through a preview pane. That gives you a space measuring about 2 inches by 6 inches to catch their attention. If you add a visual they may linger slightly longer, but the message also has a greater chance of being blocked by a spam filter.

Content tips:

  • The subject line should say it all, feature your main selling point ("Low-cost computer gear") and prompt people to read the email
  • Feature a single benefit in the headline. The 3-second scan means your headline must communicate one benefit quickly and succinctly
  • Emphasize quick problem solving. Your main headline should tell the reader that the article will help solve a problem they have. (For example: "How to save money when buying office products")
  • Keep it short. People have little time to read emails, especially when they get 50 a day. So keep your message brief and to the point
  • Make it about the reader, not the company. The WIFM (what's in it for me) factor is crucial in email marketing. The email should focus on benefits to the customer, not just the product or service

E-newsletters

E-newsletters help create and sustain customer communities and sometimes even attract advertising. The main way of measuring an e-newsletter's success is the open rate - the proportion of recipients who actually read them. An open rate of 25% is considered very good.

E-newsletters can be sent as:

  • Simple text, which limits design but looks less like spam and so does not get blocked by spam filters
  • HTML, which allows more eye-catching design, but is also more prone to being trapped by spam filters. Not all receivers prefer this type of message
  • Emailed web links, which provide an opt-in method that creates more trust and can bring readers to other areas of a web site. The main downside is that the extra step of clicking a link can reduce open rates.

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