How can a business that is already successful in reaching their local market extend their marketing reach online? The good news is that the traditional offline marketing that has always worked so well will still work at least as effectively to promote your online presence. The other side of the coin is that to promote your business online, the old traditions need some updating to keep up with online marketing best practices.
Any business should already have a marketing plan and objectives from their offline initiatives, so let's jump straight into the technology aspects of online marketing. I generally look at the following things first, because they can be done at very low or no initial cost, and also because subsequent specialist marketing won't be as successful without these things in place. Of course there is a huge amount more to online marketing, the extent of which could easily be justified as a full-time university course. This is the pre-school notes, to help get your site to a starting point on a low budget if you can't quite afford to be calling in the big guns to market your site for you professionally just yet.
1. Site optimization
This is always the place to start, because the effectiveness of everything which follows is often dependent on this being done up front. When I say this, I include great content and intuitive navigation as the basis for everything. Only once your site has been optimized for intelligent visitors should you tweak it for search engines, but never at the expense of the former.
Search engines look at things like keyword density and how specifically a page matches a specific search term. Of course this is extremely over simplistic, but nevertheless a worthwhile starting point. By identifying 10-20 key terms you would like search engines to pick up on, and creating specialised pages with relevant information which utilises those terms in the right way, you will start getting much better results once your site has been indexed.
You will find that it is best to use specialised keyword phrases, for example "precision-engineered bolts" is likely to get better placement than a generic term like "engineering parts". You should also work to create a single page for every key phrase you want picked up on, and include the key phrase in the title, meta tags and use all the words in the body of the page at a high density relative to other words. You should also preferably include the key phrase in the page title, as well as the URL of the page, for example, mysite.com/precision_engineered_bolts/". Each page should use a different title, specifically based on the key phrase utilised in that page's content.
Your site should really be developed using XHTML and CSS these days, table-based design has numerous technical problems associated with it, and it results in a lower keyword density than the current standards.
Ideally you should use a content management system which incorporates and facilitates all of the above quickly and effortlessly, such as that provided standard with RealmSurfer sites. This will allow you to manage your own content optimization, with a bit of trial-and-error.
2. Linking and indexing
The next step is to get search engines to start to notice and index your site. Google, for example, won't even look at your site until it has been linked to by at least one other indexed site. Paid inclusion (paying the search engines to index your site on a priority schedule) can be appropriate at this phase if you need to urgently accelerate this process, however it is not always necessary.
Especially useful at this stage can be participating in forums serving your primary target market. This has the dual benefit of creating awareness of your business within communities you would like to reach, and at the same time can help create incoming links to your site, something that search engines pay particular attention to. Ensure that your site details are included as a link in the footer of your posts.
Never use a forum to spam members or submit unsolicited advertising posts -- that just has the opposite effect of destroying your business' credibility. Some forums have a separate advertising section in which it may be appropriate to professionally post information about your services and products. Always make sure that your presence represents a valuable contribution to the community. Stay on topic and be professional, helpful and constructive.
Search engines take many factors into consideration when ranking a site. New sites, for example, don't initially fare well, however you will find they will allocate some credibility weighting to you the longer your site is up and running. The biggest factor though, external to the site itself, is the number of inbound (preferably non-reciprocal) links from other sites, and the context and wording of the referring link, as well as the ranking of the referring page, and referring site. The popularity of those sites plays a big role, as well as how high up in the site's own hierarchy the link is. By way of example, a link from www.news.com.au counts for much more than a link from a very deeply embedded page like www.somesitesomewhere.com/subdirectory/theattic/someoldforgottenpage .
3. Implement online marketing partnerships with high-profile online businesses
This is where you can really benefit if implemented successfully. When I was previously running the e-commerce business unit for a large company, rather than pay high-traffic websites to advertise on their sites, which can be very much untargeted, we offered them a percentage of sales. In other words, we provided them with the banners to promote the service, and implemented simple tracking of where our visitors were coming from, and then paid a percentage of the total revenue to the referrer. This resulted in very low marketing costs to us, and the referring sites started placing more and more emphasis on their side to ensure that we got top placement whenever they were low on paid inventory.
Another effective medium-term strategy is to provide content of value to sites which serve your target market. They benefit from your topical content, you benefit from the exposure and links.
4. Dabble in paid keyword advertising
Only at this point should you actually be starting to pay for online advertising. These forms of advertising, however, allow you to specifically target certain people, which means you get a much better return on investment than simply advertising to everyone. This can take some trial and error to find what works best, but the amount you pay should be less than the amount of business you generate, and should normally include full measurement and reports on a reasonably regular basis, preferably online.
For this purpose, I often suggest starting with Google. They are by far the most popular search engine globally, they have a very good reputation, provide reporting online, and are probably the most likely to produce results initially. Yahoo and MSN also have excellent paid link systems, and they keep getting better all the time. The latest offerings from all three are now also starting to allow targeting to specific demographics, a trend that is likely to become the preferred way to target online audiences once the capabilities for this type of targeting matures.
5. Involve an internet marketing specialist
At this point, you should be starting to see some results, and be in a good position to ask some intelligent questions. Preferably deal only with a business that has a good reputation (ask for client contact details so you can find out how effective they are), and has preferably has been around for at least a few years. They should also provide very detailed reports (ask for examples of these up front), and be able to explain in detail how they go about promoting your site, on which sites they do so, the number of views and clickthroughs per site per day, and how effective each promotion was