There are thousands, if not millions of articles, guides and books about marketing your business online. By no means would I say that they’re all wrong, but I must say that a significant minority of them are either wrong, or are going about things in a very wrong way.
Given this, I thought I would write a quick article about what I know about web marketing, and what should form the important and exclusive basis of your understanding.
What I find wrong or, at the very least, lacking about the existing approach to web marketing is that it’s touted as fact that you must be exploitative in your attempts. That is, many people talk about how there’s some “trick” or “secret” to marketing your business successfully. This is far from the case and, in fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s Very Simple
Marketing your business online is very simple. There’s no trick to it, and you don’t even have to spend any money; at least, not at first.
Before you go and start running ads on some ad network, and before you even think about email distribution lists or getting link-backs, ask yourself “Have I exhausted every free, legitimate means of making my business known?” Chances are, the answer is no.
Right now, and since (roughly) 2007, Google is your one-stop-shop for web presence. The vast majority of people head to Google when they want to find what they’re looking for. Thus, it is of utmost importance that you make yourself available to them through that channel.
Many other articles would be touting some sort of exploitative “trick” to getting a good ranking on Google, but the reality is, that’ll hurt you more than it’ll help you. Google’s business is helping people find you, so they make it very easy for you to be found.
“Search Engine Optimization”
The term SEO or “Search Engine Optimization” has been abused and misused heavily by spammers and charlatans. At its most honest, SEO is simply the practise of making your website easy to find and parse for search engines like Google. It’s not the practise of tricking the search engines into giving you better rankings.
- Google Places (formerly Local Business Centre)
The first thing every business needs to do is put as much information and content as possible in Google Places. Doing so means that your business not only shows up on Google Maps, but it’s also at the top of Google searches for your business category in your area. Things don’t get much more prime than that.
- Google Webmaster Tools
Use Google Webmaster Tools to make a verified connection in Google’s database between your web address and your Google account, increasing the value of your Google Places listing, and all other associated information in your account.
Additionally, check what keywords people are using to find your site, and use that information to your advantage in your advertising. Plus, there are tools here which will tell you if and why Google’s indexer is having trouble with your site, or why your ranking is being negatively impacted.
- Google Analytics
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but there are again advantages to giving Google extra access to your website. By including their analytics code on your site, you give them much more thorough information on who’s getting to your site, and how. With this information, they tailor the search listings to point the right people to your website.
There are other search engines with similar tools, and you should find and make use of those as well. Google is the biggest, but it helps to make your website as accessible as possible, and it costs absolutely nothing.
Beyond making your website accessible to search engines, you also have to give them a reason to think your business is noteworthy. The charlatans would try to sell you services such as forum and blog spamming, which basically just throws a link to your website in as many places as possible, but that is almost certain to hurt your image rather than bolster it.
Websites exist for the sole purpose of listing information about certain types of businesses. These are called information aggregators. For example, there are many websites which list information about hotels, motels and other accommodations.
Depending upon your business type, there’s almost certainly a number of sites which list this sort of information about your sector. Find these websites, and list yourself for free. It’s also sometimes worthwhile to pay a one-time fee to list yourself, if the website is popular enough.
The next-most-important thing to do is ensure that your listing on your local Chamber of Commerce’s website is up-to-date and accurate. Similarly for any other groups that operate in your area as support for your type of business. An example would be the local tourism information centre, if that’s applicable to your business.
Alright, so we’ve exhausted all free marketing means, right? Right? Chances are, you haven’t, so keep working.
If, at some point, you think that you are indeed making use of all of the worthwhile free advertising means available, you should take a look at paid advertising. This doesn’t mean paying email spammers or their ilk to pump your business.
Again, Google is at the forefront here. Sign up for Google Adwords, and follow their instructions on how to set up a good ad. Keep your target demographic well-tuned, because there’s no use in advertising to people who aren’t interested in what you’re selling.
A small business should be paying about $200 every couple of months for online advertising. In my experience, that’s plenty. Any more, and you’re wasting your money.
Seriously. If you’re a small business, or even a medium-sized business, there’s little more you should be doing online. Anything additional, including email distribution lists, newsletters and such is bad for business. Almost certainly, people just don’t care about what’s going on with your business on a continuing basis, and unsolicited information will give you a negative image.
Check out physical advertising if you need more, and keep your website up-to-date and in following with web standards. What’s the point of a website if it’s poorly-designed?