Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Web Marketing Today. Practical Ecommerce acquired Web Marketing Today in 2012. In 2016, we merged the two sites, leaving Practical Ecommerce as the successor.
Sometimes your head can be so abuzz with all these Internet marketing details that you feel overwhelmed. You don’t know where to start. You can’t see the forest for the trees. While there is a lot of depth to be understood, I think that Internet promotion can be distilled down to eight essential types. Wrap your mind around these basic concepts, and you can grasp what Internet promotion is all about. Here are the eight:
- Search engines
- Linking strategies
- Viral strategies
- Public relations
- Traditional media
- E-mail publishing
- Paid advertising
But if it’s simplicity you crave, I’ve tried to pare it down to the eight essentials.
1. Search engines
Many people, perhaps even a majority of people, will use search engines and the Yahoo! directory to find what they’re looking for on the Web. So the place to start in promotion is to design web pages that will be indexed well by the search engines, using descriptive titles and accurate META tags. When you’re ready, submit your site so that search engines will index (“spider”) it using a submission tool such as the All4One Submission Machine (http://www.all4one.com/all4submit/) or JimTools (http://www.jimtools.com/).
Getting a listing in the Yahoo! Directory is the most important task — and the most difficult. You may even have to pay them $199 to agree to consider within one week whether to add your site. Search engines are important. Be persistent. If your site doesn’t show up within a few weeks, submit again … and again … and again.
But with hundreds of millions of web pages and only 15% to 20% of them indexed, it’s very easy for your site to get lost. The remedy (which adds to the clutter) is to create a set of doorway or gateway web pages, each tuned to score high on a specific search engine for a specific search word or phrase.
While there is excellent software available for search engine positioning — such as Web Position Gold (http://www.webposition.com/d2.pl?r=AQH-55E7) for $150 — I recommend that small businesses outsource this task for $1,000 or so, plus a $100 to $150 per month “maintenance” fee. The task is very time intensive and isn’t a spare-time project.
2. Linking strategies
Linking strategies are a second essential type of site promotion. The more links pointing to your site, the more traffic you’ll experience (and the greater perceived “popularity” will rank you higher in the search engines). To get someone to link to your site, you need to ask. The simplest way is to find complementary sites, link to them on a linking page, and ask them to link to you. The key, of course, is for your site to have content that is so good it’s worth linking to. No one wants to link to a nothing website.
Ask for links on sites that cover your industry, as well as from associations your business belongs to. One twist is to join a web ring (http://www.webring.org/) with each member site linking to the next member site along the chain.
Other approaches are to offer the best (and most trafficked) websites an “award” that consists of an award logo with a link pointing back to your site. Another popular method is to join a banner exchange. For every two banners displayed on your site promoting other businesses, one of your banners will be shown on another member site. The biggest exchange is Microsoft bCentral LinkExchange (http://adnetwork.bcentral.com/). I’ve given up on the so-called free-for-all linking sites; don’t even waste your time there. Another important form of linking promotion involves paying affiliates for sales resulting from links to your site, but we’ll cover at “paid advertising” below.
3. Viral strategies
An increasingly important process is to design a strategy that encourages others to carry your marketing message via e-mail, using their own network of relationships — and preferably their own resources. This is called “viral marketing” after the way viruses multiply rapidly in a cell, commandeering the cell’s resources to do the virus’s bidding.
The classic example is HotMail.com, a free e-mail system. Each e-mail message (sent by definition to a person’s friends and associates) encourages the recipient to sign up for a HotMail account, too. Another example is postcards or greeting cards, each carrying a message encouraging the recipient to send a card to a friend — carrying the site owner’s marketing message.
If you can write quality articles, you can offer them to others to use on their websites or in their newsletters, each article carrying a link to your website. Public relations to get press coverage is a kind of viral strategy.
4. Public relations
Public relations, the task of getting press coverage, is still a vital type of site promotion. If you can get a news release picked up by several print and/or Internet publications, you’ll get a tremendous boost in traffic, all for “free,” letting the news periodical’s network carry your marketing message.
Of course, nothing’s really free. You’ll need a truly newsworthy event, contest, free service, chat room — or something — or no decent publication will consider it news. Coming up with “free” services and events isn’t inexpensive. Still, the ensuing publicity can be excellent — you may get unbiased editorial recommendations that you couldn’t purchase for any amount of money.
While there are free news release services, expect to pay several hundred dollars to have your news release sent to hundreds of subscribing periodicals.
5. Traditional media
Don’t discount traditional media in promoting your website — news releases, of course, and paid advertising. A very effective way to promote your site is to place a small display ad in a targeted trade publication, offering some teaser copy and pointing readers to your URL or an autoresponder e-mail address for more information. This way your site serves as an online brochure, providing full information to interested shoppers day and night. A no-brainer is to ensure all your company’s literature, cards, letterheads, and envelopes carry your website URL.
6. E-mail publishing
If you’re smart, you won’t even think of developing a business website without marrying it to an e-mail publication. The website is the shy partner who passively waits for people to come to him. But the e-mail publication is the bold, active partner who goes out to where people are and invites them to come meet her groom. Together they make a great couple.
E-mail publishing is primarily a way to conserve the people who have shown some interest in your business by coming to your website or responding to one of your offers. One of the highest priorities of your website must be to get your visitor to sign up for your free newsletter or discussion list.
Offer a variety of inducements — entry into a contest, a gift, a free coupon — whatever you must do to ensure a steady stream of subscribers to your newsletter. Once they are subscribers — if you give them content they enjoy and learn from — they’ll stay with you for years, and you can gently build their trust month after month.
When they’re ready to purchase, your site is at the top of their mind, and they’ll probably buy from you. Figure the lifetime value to you of a single subscriber. After completing this exercise, you’ll know why beginning your own e-mail publication is vital to marketing your business.
Though some Internet marketers focus on sending stand-alone e-mail ads to their mailing lists, I shy away. With so much spam (unsolicited e-mail) abounding, it’s too easy for recipients to mistake your promotion for just another ad and unsubscribe forever. Though an occasional promotional e-mail may be okay, your marketing messages in the context of news and helpful information are much more effective and build loyalty you can never gain by bombarding your customers with ads.
Of course, you probably know by now that sending mass e-mails to huge lists of e-mail addresses is a no-no. It violates the principle of permission marketing which says people respond better to a marketing message they have agreed to receive. Unsolicited commercial e-mail also runs contrary to a long-standing Internet tradition that responds to spam with angry flames and enough returned e-mail to cause your ISP to shut down your account very quickly.
If you’re interested in building a long-term business based on trust, don’t send spam.
An extremely important way to promote your website is through networking. Small business members of a local chamber of commerce know how making friends, being introduced, meeting new people at mixers, and being featured in the chamber newsletter can help build your business. Networking isn’t quick, but it’s the basis of relationships that will grow your business through word-of-mouth over the years.
Internet networking is done primarily through newsgroups and e-mail discussion lists such as John Audette’s venerable I-Sales Discussion List (http://www.audettemedia.com/i-sales/). In discussion lists, people in an industry converse about various current issues. After a while, you get to know the regular participants by reading their comments week after week.
Regular participation fosters trust and builds your reputation. You don’t brazenly hype your business in this kind of venue — that’s considered rude. But the “signature” at the end of every e-mail message identifies you and tells people about your business and how to contact you. If you aren’t using a signature in your e-mails, begin today.
Search out your industry’s newsgroups and discussion lists and take an active part. This will result in increased traffic, as well as referrals and recommendations by list members to their other friends who might need your products or services.
8. Paid advertising
You’ll notice that most of the first seven types of Internet marketing can be done in-house relatively inexpensively (with the exception of search engine positioning). Of course, you may be able to find a marketing firm to which you can outsource some of these functions, but you can probably do a fine job yourself — after all, it’s your business, and you are the one who can promote it most effectively.
But there comes a point that you may need to resort to paid advertising to get wider exposure and break into the consciousness of the thousands of people who never haunt your end of the Web. You’ll be paying high-traffic sites or Internet publications to include a graphic or link that will channel large numbers of people to your site. There are several popular forms of paid advertising, with new approaches cropping up all the time:
Banner ads have been around the longest. Typically these are animated and linked graphic ads at 468×60 pixels that appear at the top of a commercial web page. They are usually sold on a CPM (cost per thousand page views) basis. Targeted sites may get CPM rates of $35 to $50 or more, but banner ads to reach general audiences are priced at $1 to $10 CPM. Banners that pop up on search sites triggered by a keyword can cost $20 to $30 CPM.
But banner ads can be expensive. Do the math with me. If you’re paying $10 CPM and the click-through rate is an industry average of 0.5%, then it costs you $10 to get 5 people to your site, or $2 each. If only 5% (or 1/20th) of the visitors to your site make a purchase, then the “customer acquisition cost” is $2 x 20 or $40. You need a fairly high transaction total to pay $40 per sale for advertising. Your strategy may be to pay a higher initial customer acquisition cost but get a customer you can keep and market to for the next several years. You may lose money on the first sale, but make it up on the second, third, fourth … and 20th.
- Paid listings in portal sites. To get noticed, your online pet store may need to pay for a listing under the “Pets” category at Lycos Shop. For this, you may pay a flat fee or a percentage of the sale. Consider it the equivalent of paying rent to enjoy the foot traffic that a suburban mall might attract.
- Sponsorships are longer-term paid ads on websites or e-mail newsletters.
- Pay-per-click links can be purchased on search engines such as GoTo.com (http://www.goto.com). The price per click for the top spots depends upon what your competitors are willing to bid. ValueClick (http://valueclick.com) offers banner advertising on a per-click basis.
- Pay-per-sale advertising is popularly known as affiliate or associate program marketing. The merchant signs up a number of affiliates who place a link or linked graphic on their site. If a sale is made to a customer through that link, the affiliate earns a commission, typically 5% to 15% of the total transaction. This can be an effective — and safe — way to advertise since you only have to pay when a sale is made. You can purchase software to run your own program, but I recommend outsourcing this to a service bureau such as Commission Junction, which charges an initial set-up fee and then 20% of the commission you pay your affiliates.
- Paid ads in targeted e-mail newsletters can be very effective. There are hundreds of thousands of e-mail newsletters, many of which have very modest advertising fees. Click-through rates are likely to be in the range of 1% to 3%.
- Opt-in e-mail advertising involves sending a stand-alone ad for your business to individuals who have (hopefully) volunteered to receive information from your kind of business. These are called “opt-in” lists since the list members have agreed to receive information. Avoid “opt-out” lists where recipients are placed on a list involuntarily and then invited to unsubscribe if they want to. Opt-in lists can be quite targeted, with ads getting a 1% to 3% click-through rate. Expect to pay about 15 to 30 cents per name; the list broker will do the e-mailing on your behalf. You’ll find a list of brokers in the “Targeted Direct E-Mail Lists” section of my Web Marketing Info Center.
Certainly, there are many more types of paid advertising, but these are some of the most common and most effective.
Internet promotion can seem overwhelming. But hopefully, it’s more understandable since we’ve outlined the eight types of effective website promotion.