In 2010, I started my own Internet marketing company that catered to small businesses with no prior online marketing programs. Entirely self-taught, I specialized in websites, local search directories, social media marketing, and email marketing. By August 2012, I had over 30 clients in a variety of industries.
If you're a small business with a limited budget and little to no experience with online marketing, this article is a great place for you to start.
Reasons to advertise online:
Internet marketing is here to stay. If you don't have an online presence, you might as well not exist. Consumers of all ages and backgrounds most often look for products and services online. If you aren't mentioned, they will most likely go to your competitors. By not being online you give the message that you don't care to reach out to those who might be interested in what your company does.
What to say:
Every business needs a website. It doesn't have to be fancy but it must have the following information:
- Your business's name
- What you do
- Where you are located/what locations you service
- How/when can I get in contact you
I've seen so many business websites (restaurants are especially guilty of this) that endlessly tell me about their life story, show excessive pictures of their building, and waste my time with other details I don't care about. At the same time, they make it so difficult to find the vital information that I listed above. It sounds harsh, but people don't care how great you think your company is. They only want to know what you can do for them and how they can get in touch with you. Your home page (the front page) should only have the most important information. Leave the less important details for the other pages.
Make sure your website's text is descriptive without being wordy. My advice would be to pretend you're writing for a 5th grade audience. Be sure to tell a reader why they should pick you over your competitors. Include testimonials from satisfied customers. If you can, provide your staff members' names (pictures make it even better) to give your company a human face.
Building a website:
GoDaddy is a great place to build a website. You can buy a domain name (www.yourcompanysname.com) and hosting (your website's space on the Internet) for a great price. Their tech support people are very helpful and their servers are reliable so you don't have to worry about your website going down.
I'd recommend getting a Wordpress hosting package on GoDaddy. Wordpress is great for people who don't have a lot of experience building websites. When I started making websites, I knew nothing about HTML or any other programming languages (I still don't know much even now). But I played around with it for months and got fairly good at it. Wordpress has some great templates so you can customize your website's look and layout. Wordpress websites also have a built-in blog so you can start posting as soon as your website is set up. Wordpress allows you to edit your website from anywhere and the changes appear instantaneously.
To create graphics for your website, use an online graphics editor. PicMonkey is my favorite. It's easier to learn and much cheaper than Photoshop. Only use graphics that you own or have permission to use. There are many free stock photo websites available.
People are increasingly browsing the Internet with mobile devices like smartphones or tablets. Make sure that your website is mobile-friendly. Wordpress automatically creates a mobile version of the website. Viewers also have the option of looking at the website's desktop version on their mobile devices. Websites with Flash animation look great on a laptop, but on an iPhone they are pretty much useless. Make sure to put your website on all your marketing materials such as your business card, brochures, newspaper advertisements, takeout menu, etc..
If you're interested in seeing how much traffic your website is getting, consider using Google Analytics. It's a free service that allows you to see how many people are visiting your website, how long they stay on it, and where the traffic is coming from. The Google Analytics website give you easy-to-follow instructions on how to install and use the service.
Local search directories help you in two ways. First, they are places where people regularly search for products and services in their area. Second, getting your website listed on these directories helps boost your search engine ranking.
Get your company and website listed on the major online local search directories. I'd recommend starting with the following directories:
There are a lot more directories and many of them depend on your industry. Do some research and see where your competitors and other similar business are listed. It's free to create listings on most directories. The listings may need to be confirmed by phone or postcard verification. These directories, besides providing your website and contact information, allow you to describe your business in detail (specific services, accepted payment methods, hours, etc.). Some even let you post pictures, coupons, and videos.
Many of these directories allow customers to leave feedback about your business. Positive feedback is always great but a negative review can destroy your reputation. You cannot delete a negative review, but many of these directories allow you to respond directly to a negative review. If a customer leaves a bad review because of an honest mistake that you made, respond to that person and take responsibility. Explain how you're taking active steps to ensure that it never happens again. Other people will see this and appreciate your honesty and integrity.
SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
Once your website is set up, create accounts for your business on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Many of my clients were hesitant to do so because they felt these websites were too oriented towards young people. However, the average Facebook user is now 38 years old. Even if you feel you might have not have any use for these websites, you have nothing to lose. They are simply one more place where your company is mentioned on the Internet. They're free, so why not take advantage of them? Make sure your website links to each one of your social media accounts and they link back to your website.
Reaching your audience:
Each one of these social media websites has a different purpose. Get familiar with them and see which ones work best to reach your target audience. In my experience, Facebook works best for B2C companies while LinkedIn is best for B2B companies. Twitter works well for both. Google+ also seems to work for both. It's not as big as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn but it's growing rapidly. YouTube is great for posting informational videos or online commercials. You can embed your YouTube videos directly on your website.
Keep your target audience in mind when deciding what to post. What would someone interested in your services want to know more about? Your posts should strive to educate and engage your readers. The best posts are the ones that promote discussion.
As I discussed with websites, no one is interested in your self-promotion. If you only talk about how great your company is, without offering anything of substance, people will unsubscribe quickly. My recommendation is to mix interesting content with business news and offers. This way you keep people interested and promote your services at the same time.
When it comes to how much you post, it's up to you. If you have time-sensitive information, post as often as you need to but don't overdo it. Excessive posting gets annoying very fast. As a general rule of thumb, I'd say once a day at most for Facebook. For Twitter, several times a day is fine. But as I said before, it's not how much you post but what you post.
You get what you put in:
Participation is important on social media. The more active you are on social media, the more fans you can accumulate. Comment on other people's posts and respond to comments on your accounts. It shows that you are genuinely interested in what customers are saying.
Wordpress's built-in blog works great with social media. You can write an article on your website and then post it on different social media platforms. People who see your post through social media will have to go to your company's website to read the entire article. If they're interested, they can easily navigate to other pages on your website and learn more about your company.
Posting regularly can be a headache. Consider using a social media management software like Hootsuite. You can manage multiple social media accounts, see what people on these websites are talking about, and schedule your posts in advance.
To send out professional looking emails without too much effort, sign up for an email marketing service like Constant Contact or MailChimp (I use Constant Contact for my clients). These services are fairly inexpensive and allow you manage your emails and contact lists. You can send your emails immediately or schedule them to be sent at a future date.
What to send:
I recommend sending out a company newsletter to current and prospective customers once a month (never exceed this unless you're sending out something that is time sensitive). Doing this will keep your company fresh in the customer's mind. You can use email newsletters to publicize an offer or the latest company developments. Be sure to provide your contact information, website, and social media links.
Once your email is sent, you can see who opened it, who didn't, and who marked it as spam. You can also see who visited each link you provided in the email (people worth following up with). In addition, people on your mailing list have the option of unsubscribing.
Collect emails everywhere you can. For businesses that customers visit in person, it's a great idea have an email sign-up list (with a pen) or a bowl where people leave business cards. Make sure the list or bowl is in a prominent place. Email marketing services also allow you to embed a mailing list sign-up form directly on your website. They give you clear instructions on setting this up. Never send an email to an address that you didn't receive with permission. Too many spam reports will get your account suspended. If you need to send an unsolicited email, use your business email account.
I've covered a lot in this post but I've only scratched the surface of Internet marketing. New developments and trends mean that things change rapidly. What holds true today might not hold true tomorrow. Once you've gotten a good grasp of what I discussed above, you might want to look into other things. I'd recommend learning more about search engine optimization (SEO) to learn how you can improve your ranking on search engines. I also recommend learning more about Google Adwords and other pay-per-click advertising services. These services allow you to place targeted ads on search engines and 3rd party websites. Most of the time, you only pay when someone clicks your ad.
If you want to hire someone to do anything concerning online marketing, make sure you do thorough research beforehand. Make sure you know exactly what specific services you are paying for. I cannot stress this enough. There are a lot of unscrupulous people out there who are ready to take advantage of your ignorance. Don't let this happen to you.
Internet marketing is all about experimentation. Learn as much as you can and try different things. Not every strategy will work. Learn from your mistakes and always be willing to try again. Good luck!
I'm always happy to answer any of your questions. For my contact information and to see my portfolio, visit my website.