Being online levels the playing field. Big or small, everyone has the same chance to attract and convert customers. By following some basic principles, you can receive the same coverage as major players and see your business take off using savvy, affordable marketing techniques.
The 10 Steps to Marketing your Small Business Online are:
- Create a website
- Convert visitors to leads
- Build trust & credibility
- Search engine leads
- Email market/eDM
- Affiliate market
- Partnerships & links
- Email signature
- Track and respond
1. Create a website
Without a web presence, you simply don’t exist online. So the first and most obvious step is to create one. But not all websites are created equal.
If your website isn’t visually engaging and easy to use, you will lose visitors within seconds. And they won’t return. Research has shown that if a user has to click more than three times to reach the information they require, they will give up and leave your site.
The key to keeping customers happy and satisfied in the online environment is to design a website that is both aesthetically and functionally pleasing. Bricks and mortar retailers have spent years researching store layout to encourage shoppers to stay, browse and buy. Likewise, your online environment should do the same.
Most importantly, when you are designing your website, create a situation where every page drives a consumer action and generates a lead for your business. See diagrams below for the difference between a standard website and a sales-driving website design.
2. Convert visitors to leads
To turn your website from a passive, “brochure-ware” site that delivers a lot of information but doesn’t deliver sales results, you need to refocus your strategy from delivering free information and content, to providing relevant content that drives consumer action.
By all means, supplying information is both necessary to readers and handy in raising your search engine rankings, but be tactical.
Supply enough information to whet the appetite, then ask for something from your user, before delivering the punch-line. Always ask yourself: “What is my Call to Action” and ensure you have at least one sales-driven action per page.
These can take the form of links to downloads, requesting consumer information, advertising, offers or promotions. At the very least, encourage users to make contact, either by phone or email. Using an online form to send an email is best, as you can ensure essential user information is captured and stored in an eCRM database for future marketing and/or follow-up sales lead activities.
In the following example: Laser Sight’s website has increased sales by 50 percent using these tactics deployed by online marketing partner, Freestyle Media.
3. Build trust and credibility
Being open and transparent is crucial to success in online marketing. Because the playing field is so even, shonky dealers can gain as much voice as reputable companies.
Prove you are a concrete, reliable business by including as many of the following as you are able.
- Clear contact details, including a physical address and landline phone number. (Note: mobile phone numbers and PO mailboxes are evidence of no fixed address.)
- Photos and images of employees, location and equipment.
- Third-party endorsements and verification of your authenticity, including approved stamps and/or testimonials.
Also, be sure to reply to all contact enquiries promptly with an acknowledgement of emails sent by users and/or response to phone messages.
4. Search engine leads
Through our own experience, we know that the first step to finding what you need on the internet is running a search on a company name, product name, service or activity. Research shows that indeed, high search engine rankings are a major predictor of online business success. Moreover, after 30 results, users stop looking, so it is vital you sit within this top percentile.
There are two ways to optimise your business’s search engine ranking.
1. Search Engine Optimisation:
Increase your natural search listing rank through search engine optimisation tactics. Using a savvy web developer will ensure your website is built to maximise your search engine listing.
As well as looking and feeling good; behind-the-scenes, the way a site is built can lead to your success or failure in this game. Search engine spiders bookmark and then rank your website pages based on content and layout.
Unless a site is built with this in mind, you could miss out completely. If it is built without this as a primary consideration, you are likely to rank poorly. Unless you are a well-known global brand, it is imperative you rank highly in search results relevant to your products and/or service offerings.
2. Search Engine Marketing
You can also pay for the privilege of sitting in the top two to five results, as a paid advertisement. Depending on the popularity of your keyword, you can pay almost nothing or a premium for this opportunity. Using an expert who is aware of the ever-changing landscape can ensure you maximise your investment in this risky but often worthwhile endeavour.
5. Email marketing or eDM
The power of online can be summed up by email marketing. Here is a cost-effective, efficient, traceable, relationship-building tool for regularly communicating with your existing and potential consumers.
We have all heard of the 80:20 rule in marketing: 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. Email marketing is the easiest way to continue an ongoing, targeted dialogue with them.
Because every action is tracked in email marketing – sends, not opened, opened, click-throughs and forwards – you can cost-effectively analyse and improve your activities for each mail-out.
Recording these activities against individual profiles already stored and continually updated in your eCRM database means you can also trigger-market based on individual activity and interests, keeping email content fresh and relevant, encouraging greater uptake and ensuring customer retention.
It is through such programs that the internet truly does create an even platform for every sized business as the processes and cost-outlay for such tactics are imminently affordable. Because of its targeting and tracking, it also delivers an impressive ROI for every marketing dollar spent.
5 top secrets for Email Marketing Success are:
- Short punchy content
- Calls to action
- Maintaining a clean list
6. Affiliate market
As well as buying listings in search engine results, you can buy or trade listings on relevant directories and/or cross-promotional websites. Reciprocal link-backs improve both websites’ natural search engine listings.
You may also like to create your own directory. It won’t drain your marketing budget but it is a time-consuming and lengthy process to generate success. Directories also require regular maintenance to ensure relevance for listers and searchers.
To be a good affiliate host follow these basic rules:
- Setup a program
- Provide good content, links and banners
- Be a good merchant and your affiliates will be good to you
7. Partners and links
As with affiliate marketing, the success of this tactic lies in increasing your exposure through both cross-promotion on related websites, and also through upping your search engine listing thanks to increased link-backs.
There are many avenues to increasing your presence, for free or at a low cost on related websites.
- Submit articles to other websites and free PR websites
- Submit sites to directories
- Buy links
- Buy partnerships e.g. Emailcash
- List on Shopferret and price comparison websites
- Industry bodies
8. Create a Blog
Running a business, you are clearly an expert in your field. Create a blog and share your expertise with current and potential customers. Give them a taste of how your knowledge can help them.
Blogs allow the instigator/s to establish discussion threads and invite comment from readers. They create a community around those with common interests and become a tool for sharing and developing ideas.
Beginning as personal diary entries, blogs have now entered the corporate arena where they are used both as a way of generating personal, one-to-one contact and inviting a less formal relationship, or alternately, acting as a voice of authority on a subject.
Their major advantage is creating an open, accessible channel to boost consumer involvement. They can be used to encourage trial, conduct ground research and develop ongoing customer relationships.
9. Email signature
Think about how many emails you send out each day, each week, each month. Now multiply that by the emails sent by your employees and/or subcontractors. Every one of those emails is an opportunity to market your business.
As well as including your standard contact details, and always, always your website URL; the smart online marketer also uses this opportunity to promote their latest offer, promotion or release. Alternately, it can be used to build your brand identity or value-add to consumers and grow your relationships.
It is an opportunity to open a dialogue and encourage interaction. So don’t waste these free golden moments – and change them regularly.
10. Track and Respond
Every web host keeps detailed statistics of activities occurring on your website – the number of visitors, downloads, where people landed and left the site, how long they stayed and where they spent most of their time.
Analyse this information and use it to continually improve your site’s performance based on this silent customer feedback. If you are not reaching the conversion you expected, then analyse pages containing the steps of the sales process. Perhaps you are losing them at step 4 – is it too complicated? Can you lose it all together? Maybe they didn’t go any further than the first page so your offer needs to change.
The beauty of the internet is that you can change your marketing and track its effects immediately. If something is working, stick with it. If not, change it again.
While you may not have the financial resources of the big guns, you do share access to the same technology: online. Use it to your advantage, and watch your small business grow.
Fred Schebesta is Director of Freestyle Media, a full-service online marketing agency based in Sydney, Australia.