Online Marketing

Website setup

This guide is full of insider knowledge for everything you need to know about Web marketing for just about any type of business. The guide covers most popular Web marketing techniques, their approximate costs, and what you can expect from it. All information in this guide comes from real world sites, and real world marketing campaigns. Due to confidentiality, the sites are not named. If you find the information in this article to be a good starting point, take a look at our article with marketing ideas to get new customers which goes over some further topics.

Overview

If you need to first set up your website, please take a look at our articles for how to choose a domain name and website setup.

There are 5 main ways to advertise on the web out of which stem a number of other techniques. The 5 types of marketing are search (Google search being the largest search platform), paid advertising, PR, social/viral traffic, and word of mouth (sales) efforts which leads to people coming to your site directly. We will go through each main way of advertising in detail. After that we will touch on what to do once you get people to land on your site, so you can turn the visitors into customers. Additionally, as we touched on our marketing 101 article, do not forget to determine the true cost of marketing your small business.

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PR and Public Relations

PR stands for Public Relations. On the Web, it generally means having large web publications doing a story on your venture. These can be sites such as Wall Street Journal, New York Times, TechCrunch, CNN, Mashable, a publication that covers your particular niche, or whatever other publication.

Every business owner wants their business to be mentioned in large publications because that means lots of Web traffic and hopefully lots of new customers. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get mentioned in those publications because every business owner in the world is trying to get their company mentioned.

In your humble author's experience, the only successful approaches have been either to pay a PR agency or have someone on your team be connected to someone who works at these publications. And in rare cases, if you have a truly great company/product/story, simply emailing these publications might work. But that typically proves to be rare. So the name of the game here is money or connections. If you do not have these, you can still get mentioned in these publications, but your story must be extremely newsworthy and extremely interesting or relevant to the readers of those publications.

If you are wondering, a typical PR agency can cost about $5-10k per month.

A typical mention on cnn.com or mashable.com or techcrunch.com can get you from 1,000 to 15,000 visitors that day depending on the story and the publication. The number of visitors also depends on how interesting your story is, and how interesting the competing news that day are. Additionally, keep in mind that large sites tend to have many kinds of different readers. That means many of them will not be within your actual target demographic, which in turn means that they will just browse your site a little bit, leave and never come back. Additionally, the traffic spike that occurs on the day of the publication quickly vanishes in the next few days and your regular visitor numbers get back to where they were before you got that PR mention, or just a little bit higher. It is rare that PR has long-term effect unless you get PR repeatedly. The only instances when PR traffic lasts long-term is when the page of the article actually ranks in Google for some search term. If the page ranks in Google, then it can bring a trickle of traffic over a long-term.

For a full guide on how to get press for your business, pleasse take a look at our guide to get press for your business.

Google Search and SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

Search is extremely popular. People have learned to generally associate search with Google, but that is not entirely correct and we will address that shortly. But since Google is the biggest name in search, we will discuss it first.

The practice of getting your site to rank in Google for given searches is called SEO. It stands for search engine optimization. SEO at its core it free traffic of people who are searching for the type of offering that you offer. People search for something, they find you, and Google sends you that visitor. Seems simple, and it is. But due to the overwhelming number of sites and web pages out there, competition is incredible difficult.

But SEO is always worth considering because the amazing thing about SEO is that the people who are searching and finding you, are looking for what you are offering at exactly the time that they need it. So if they find your site from search, they are already coming to you at the right time with the right intent. That means there is also a much higher likelihood that such visitors have an intent to buy or transact with you. These are some of the best kinds of site visitors to have.

For any Google search, the sites that get most traffic are the sites that rank in the top-10 of the results. Approximately 90% of searches are settled within the first top-10 results. So how do you get your site to be in the top-10 results? Well, you either have to be in a non-competitive niche, or you have to invest quite a bit of effort into learning and executing SEO. Keep in mind that there is no guarantee for whether you will get into the top-10 or how long you will stay there for any given search. Additionally, SEO takes time to plan, execute, wait for results, and requires someone to make changes to your site.

So even though the traffic that comes from search is free, in reality you have to invest time, and maybe pay for SEO services. So SEO is very far from free, and unless you already have a popular site, it is unlikely that SEO will give you very high traffic volume for some time.

A word of caution: In the past years, since many people have figured out how to game Google's search, Google has updated their search algorithm to favor established sites, and harshly penalize other sites which are detected to be trying to outsmart Google.

Additionally, keep in mind that Google is the single most crowded search platform there is. Other search platforms might have less people searching, but there are also less businesses trying to be found via those search platforms. When you are exploring SEO, consider other search sites that might fit your business such as various local-service sites if you provide a local service, YouTube for video search, medical journal sites for health information and research, or large industry sites for niche industry searches.

Google SEM & Other Paid Advertising

The nice thing about search is that the user tells the search engine his or her intention at that moment. There is a way to put yourself in a position to take advantage of knowing that information without doing any SEO. But you have to pay for it upfront.

It is called SEM and Google offers sites to be listed on the right side of the search results and above the natural search results if you pay for each click via its AdWords product. Bringing visitors to your site this way can cost you from pennies to a few dollars per visitor depending on your business and how competitive your niche is.

That is a very good option for many kinds of businesses. If a business can earn money from its customers, it can afford to spend some of that money on bringing people from those types of ads, and growing the business by spending some of the revenue to bring new customers that way. It is also one of the less time-consuming ways to advertise since you can automatically set the same ads daily, after you figure out the right ads that drive you high quality traffic which converts into paying customers.

It can work like a charm, but you must have a proven business model and benchmarking statistics of what each of your visitors is worth so that you can know how much to spend on getting that user via marketing. Until you have those statistics, it is difficult to start any paid marketing campaigns because you really would not know whether you are ultimately turning a profit or accelerating losses.

Word Of Mouth

For small sites, offline marketing can work, but keep in mind that you will be losing a very significant portion of the people who see your ad, and simply forget about it before they get to the computer. So unless you can do offline marketing cheaply and at scale, or have very high margins, this methods is probably not going to be the big winner for you. It can help, but if you are to grow big, this is likely not the way to go big fast unless you have a large sales staff.

Social Marketing And Virality

Now is the age of the social web so this kind of marketing is getting quite a bit of attention, and for many valid reasons. Many people are still somewhat confused with what is social media marketing. So here is a brief explanation below. For tips on how to promote your business via individual social networks, please take a look at our Facebook marketing, Quora marketing, Twitter marketing, and Marketing with GooglePlus guides. And don't forget about blogging and guest blogging. Blogging is a very effective part of social media marketing. To learn more about how to use blogging for your business, please take a look at our article on blogging as a marketing tool for business.

People who use various social sites tend to have thousands of contacts across all the different social networks. If you can make them share something about what you are doing to their contacts, it can increase your potential reach by thousands of people, and in some rare cases tens or hundreds of thousands of people.

Virality, social engagement, and social use is something that should be 'built in' your product as much as possible.

Yet every business has to be cautious of how social it can potentially be. Some industries like health or finance are inherently private, and in most cases, there is very little sharing that can be built into those kinds of sites. It is not a problem, but it is something that has to be considered when planning the product.

There is also the concept of the 'viral coefficient' which allows you to actually measure your social sharing and determine whether something can go truly viral. Just google for 'viral coefficient' and you should get the formula and a number of lengthy explanations for calculating it.

Word of caution: do not hope or assume that your product will go fully web-viral. That is very rare and more often than not, there is a marketing agency behind the scenes, and thousands of dollars spent. Wide virality is a largely misunderstood phenomenon on the Web that is not attainable very easily, and can be quite misleading during planning.

How to increase your viral potential: you might not become a huge overnight success, but here are some tips that can provide an immediate viral boost:

1) Headlines matter - catchy, intriguing and attractive headlines get shared and clicked on more frequently

2) Great content matters - if your content is truly good, it will get shared more often

Here is a case study from your humble author's own experience:

I have a hobby which is hiking. I used to organize group hikes. When I first tried it, no one came to my hikes. Then one day five people came to my hike. I asked them how they found out about it, and they said they saw my hike mentioned on a bigger site. I had my own site at that time, but almost no one visited my site so the bigger site obviously drove more people.

So I started experimenting with different headlines in hopes that larger event sites would find my events more interesting and publish information about my hikes. After a while I found a few types of hikes which worked well:
1) Hike and beers after - would typically get published in local event sites and get 20-30 people in attendance
2) I found some shipwrecks on a local coast and did hikes to the shipwrecks - that got republished everywhere from the Sunday paper to various Web publications and I had well over 150 people come to each such hike. It got to the point that I had to scale down because I could not lead that many people on a hike.

I kept doing these kinds of hikes. The cooler the headline became, the more people showed up and the more PR mentions I got. They even discussed my hikes on NPR radio once. But also, the cooler the hikes became, the less the visitors cared about hiking. They just wanted to see the shipwreck and go home. So I was getting people who were out of my target market, and even though the numbers looked great, and I got lots of nice and free PR, I was attracting non-hikers who rarely re-joied the next hikes. Additionally, one thing to take very seriously is that your event or content has to live up to the great title/headline.

So that is what I learned in just under a year of doing these regular hikes, and I hope it serves as a nice case study. Regarding the social networks, despite hiking being social, the impact of my Twitter and Facebook efforts were minimal. Some people did share my hikes on those sites and I created marketing accounts on Twitter and Facebook too, but it took more of my time than the benefit it gave me. The viral coefficient for something as cool as a shipwreck hike was not enough to make too much of an increase. The real driver of traffic were larger sites which mentioned my hikes. But there, the targeting of my true target user was very poor.

Video

Right now, video is getting a lot of attention, and is being hyped as one of the large trends on the Web moving forward. YouTube is of course, one of the largest platforms in online video. Despite the hype video is getting, there is quite a bit of skepticism about how much of a role video will play in the future. Not all content is best consumed through video. Sometimes there are people around, and sometimes we just want to read content and not watch its video equivalent. Additionally, videos have to be of high quality and few people are able to actually create high quality videos. People hate to watch low quality clips. And to produce high quality video costs money which is not a good combination with video since video is traditionally difficult to monetize with anything other than ads, and ads do not pay well until there is tremendous scale.

Leverage Big Platforms

As mentioned earlier, large platforms can be very good sources of traffic to your website. We discussed how PR can bring you thousands of people per day. We also discussed the case study of how good events or content can get republished on larger event sites, and get more attendees. This is a pattern to keep in mind. Whatever your niche is, even if it is not events or something else that will get PR, there is a large platform for just about anything. You have to think about what the potential large sources of traffic may be for your site, and do your best to leverage it or partner with those sources. There also does not have to be a limit on how many large platforms you can leverage. For example, if you run a restaurant, why not try to get to the point where Zagat.com, Yelp.com and other food review sites are driving traffic to you. Just make sure they are actually big platforms because a mention from a random blog can get very few visitors for your efforts.

So this is just a pattern of thought to try to add to your marketing brainstorming: how to leverage larger platforms or publications to get (hopefully) regular large numbers of new visitors.

Here is a video tutorial for Facebook marketing.

And here is a video tutorial for Twitter marketing.

Marketing And Advertising Local Services

We just mentioned Yelp.com in the previous section. Other than Google, is the largest platform where people search for and find local services such as restaurants, lawn care, plumbing services, home fixing services, pet services, dentists etc. If you have a local service, that is a platform you need to leverage and make sure people can find you for a large enough georgraphical service area. Other similar sites are servicemagic.com, thumbtack.com, redbeacon.com and many others. Try to list your services there and make sure you are the top service provider in your niche. These can drive lots of new clients to you if you work it right and get good reviews on those sites.

I am also working on a list of tutorials for how you can promote certain companies. The first one I am working on is law firm marketing.

Create a Professional Website

Once people find you, they will try to research you. You need your own website. Many small businesses find this to be a serious and expensive pain point. We have a recommendation that makes it cheap for you to have a professional site for your business, often within that same day. Take a look at wordpress.org which allows you to create a website easily and for free. Also, take a look at our article on website setup to learn more about how to set up your website.

So once people find your site, you will have a professional looking site that will help turn that person who just found you into a customer.

Analytics For Your Website

Once you have a site that is up and running, try out Google's free product: Google Analyics. It will give you a sense of how many people are visiting your site and what they are doing on it.

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Does Having An App Help Your Online Marketing?

Many people often wonder whether they should have an app as one of the ways their business can interact with potential and existing customers. For most businesses an app isn't necessary. But some businesses can certainly benefit from having their own app. Take a look at this article that takes a closer look at whether a particular business needs to have their own app.

Further Marketing Resources

For more about blogging, check out the Wikipedia entry on blogging and the main blog about blogging with blogging tips for beginners. One site you might find helpful are SEO Moz to learn about SEO. Another site that might be helpful is Mashable which focuses on social media marketing. And here are some more marketing videos that you might find helpful.

Article by Alex Genadinik