The phrase “build it and they will come” doesn’t apply to websites and, depending on your niche, you may need to engage in Internet Marketing activities to promote it. The great thing about the internet is that smaller businesses can compete effectively against bigger ones, so it’s almost a level playing field, but like any other form of marketing you need to have a plan and a budget to support it.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that there are thousands of search results for almost any search term you choose to type in the Google search box. Just try typing “internet marketing derby” for example and you’ll see there are over 11 million results!
So, bearing in mind that people usually only look at one or two pages of the search results, how can you get your business featured there? Or are there other methods you could employ to market your business online?
Here are four of the most popular techniques used by SMEs.
Search Engine Optimisation
Simply put, the aim of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is to improve your organic (natural) rankings for specific searches made in Google (or any other) search engine. Google’s stated aim is to return the most appropriate results for any search term, and it uses complex algorithms to determine this – which it changes on a regular basis. Despite the algorithm changes which have kept a lot of Search Marketers on their toes over the last couple of years and influence some of the finer points of SEO, the basic principles which Google uses are the same, i.e. is this a reputable website and does it have useful content that relates to the search? Google will factor in the user’s location and often other personal information, so different people may see different results for the same search – nevertheless there are some a couple of general principles to follow in order to improve your rankings:
Keep your content up to date – and add new, useful, content on a regular basis. Try to create content that appeals to what your potential customers might search for. There may be some obvious “keywords” that you want to target that represent your business, but think about these in terms of the questions customers ask you, pre and post-sale and try to incorporate these questions (and the answers to them) in your content. These days, people tend to type much longer phrases and questions into the search box to try and narrow down the results, so if you can anticipate these and write about them, you’ll be doing yourself a favour. A blog is often the easiest way to add new content regularly and the more conversational style of blogs also lends itself to the longer search phrases too. You could blog about recent work experiences, new developments in your industry – anything really as long as it’s interesting and helps you to present yourself and your business as knowledgeable and professional in your field.
Coming back to reputation, one of the key factors Google uses to judge this is the quality of other websites which link to you. This is a thorny area as over the years many online directories and article sites have been developed as a way to easily create incoming links for SEO purposes but these are now frowned upon, so whilst links are important, they should only be from high quality, relevant websites. As a start point you could think about associations you belong to, good local directories and businesses you work with, either as a supplier or customer. If you are in a position to create useful content for your website, e.g. tips sheets, glossaries and “how to” articles, you may find that other websites will link to these naturally if they believe their customers would find them useful – that’s a big tick for your credibility rating!
Search Engine Optimisation takes time and ongoing effort to achieve results. Pay-per-click (PPC) on the other hand can bring instant results and is being used by more and more SMEs.
Google Adwords (Google’s version of PPC) and Bing Ads (which controls ads appearing on the Bing and Yahoo search engines) involve the creation of specific adverts which appear at the top of and on the right side of a typical search screen (on mobiles they’re at the top and the bottom).
In this example, you can see three paid ads at the top on the left of the screen above the first organic listing and more on the right.
Once you’ve set up an account, you can decide which search phrases you want to trigger your ads, and you can write specific ads for different groups of phrases. Once you’ve published them, they are live almost immediately.
Sounds great, so where’s the catch? Well as the name implies, you pay a fee to Google every time someone clicks on your ad. So you do have to manage this carefully to make sure that you don’t pay too much for your clicks. Some quick tips:
• Improve your quality score by writing appealing ads that will encourage people to click on them, then route the clicks through to relevant web pages which relate closely to the search term used and appeal to potential customers. A high quality score results in cheaper clicks.
• Manage your bids – the ads at the top will typically get the most clicks but the ads on the right will be cheaper, so find a position that works for you
• Make it easy for people to make an enquiry from your website and if possible, put measures in place so that you can track clicks through to sales
There is a cost to using PPC, but with careful management many business find that it brings a good return on investment – that’s why so many business use it. In our experience business that manage their own PPC campaigns often don’t have the time to manage it effectively, so can end up losing money – so it may be worth considering using a PPC specialist to manage your campaigns for you.
After falling out of favour in recent years – email marketing is now back with a bang and can be very effective for many businesses. By collecting email addresses for your past and present customers (and you can also buy email lists) you can take the opportunity to email them periodically to provide helpful information and to let them know about new products and services and special offers.
As long as you don’t bombard customers with too many emails, this is a great way to remind people about your business on a regular basis and by making your emails informative and helpful, you’ll be helping to strengthen your relationships as well as creating opportunities for repeat sales.
There are some easy to use tools which enable you to manage your contact database and create smart looking templates for your mails – these tools also provide information on open rates, click throughs etc so you can evaluate the level of engagement from your email marketing efforts. And of course there are agencies to manage all of this for you if you prefer.
There are numerous social media channels, some of the most popular being Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and of course Youtube. Depending on the type of business you are in, one or more of these is likely to be useful for you – it’s a case of understanding your target market, the social media channels they are most likely to use and what type of content will appeal to people when using social media.
Social Media offers an opportunity to “spread the word” about your products and services to people you know and the people they know, and good social media campaigns can have an extraordinary reach. For B2B, Linkedin and Twitter are good ways to demonstrate your expertise by posting useful information and contributing to group discussions. B2C businesses often use Facebook to connect with existing customers and get new followers. And don’t forget Youtube – apart from being a social media channel, it’s also a highly used search engine in its own right and videos are a great way to show your products in action or demonstrate “how to” tips. You can also embed Youtube videos on your web pages, so you’re adding value to your website too.
There are several different aspects to Internet Marketing and we’ve touched on the four most popular methods used by SMEs here, but there are others. If you want to get more traffic to your website and ultimately generate more enquiries and sales, you need to promote your website – don’t just sit and wait – spread the word about your businesses.