With so many new ways to promote your business online, it can be difficult to keep on top of all of the opportunities available. Not only are there new promotional methods appearing all of the time, but also there are so many platforms, websites and techniques to keep up to date with that it can become overwhelming for a small business owner.Â If you are a skilled trades-person, or you run a busy shop or professional practice, finding the time and energy to properly research online marketing can be impossible.
However, having a varied â€˜marketing mixâ€™ and employing new and effective methods will almost certainly widen your reach into your market and increase sales. This post is not intended to cover every single opportunity available, it is designed as a simple list of the main online marketing activities, to highlight areas that you may be missing out on and want to research further.
Whilst content marketing is a hot topic at the moment, it has actually been used in many forms for a very long time. Newspaper advertorials are a great example of how useful information can be used to gently steer a reader towards a product or service. The Internet is the perfect place for content to thrive, which is why this method is gaining in popularity all of the time.
In principle, providing free and useful information to people without obligation or commitment required on their behalf will always create opportunities for sales. Whether this is means adding a blog to your website, arranging a webinar, or giving away a free whitepaper, these activities will position your brand as knowledgeable and credible, and will create opportunities for you to collect email addresses, or provide links to relevant products.
Online sponsorships should be considered as a branding activity, rather than a direct driver of sales, but they can have huge benefits if used effectively. For example, if you have a successful small business which sells farming equipment and you want to increase your market share, buying a sponsorship of a popular farm management website will develop a strong impression that your brand is successful and a major player in that field.
As mentioned, do not expect a sponsorship to deliver sales immediately. Sponsorships are long-term activities designed to build familiarity with customers, and will pay off over time as your brand becomes more recognised and trusted.
Much has been written about the recent Google Penguin and Panda changes which have made search engine optimisation much more regulated, and website owners more accountable. As always, we would recommend that people play it safe and stay within the boundaries that are set by the search engines.
There are still many positive and natural activities that you can do to help your website rank better in the search results. For example, quality forum comments, guest blog posting, keyword research, social bookmarking and social media sharing are just some of the safe methods that we would recommend to small businesses.
Used in the right way, email marketing can still produce great results for a small business. Obviously, unsolicited â€˜spamâ€™ is definitely not recommended for any serious brand. However, emailing useful content-led messages or newsletters will still generate sales, as long as your list is targeted and contains people who have opted in to receiving emails.
The huge growth of social media usage has inspired many new marketing practices. The long-term benefits of social media marketing are still to be proven, and many people, including us, believe that small businesses should not dedicate too much time or budget to these activities.
There are many good reasons to have company pages on the main social networks (Twitter, Facebook and Google+) as this can give credibility to your brand, and it is also very good for SEO. We recommend a strategic use of these pages for sharing content and networking, but believe that social media should be seen as a small part of a marketing plan, and should not replace other more proven methods.
If your company sells products or services, offering an affiliate program could be a great source of income. Affiliate programs allow other people to sell your products on their website in return for a commission on each sale. You can set up these partnerships yourself, or there are now many directories where you can post your program.
Affiliate sellers are generally people who own a website in a certain niche, and are looking for an extra income stream. They would create content around your products and drive people to purchase via special links that track the sales.
The traditional â€˜displayâ€™ model of advertising involves buying a certain number of pages or views for your advert, regardless of how many people click on it. This model comes from the original print method, as in newspapers or magazines it is impossible to directly measure any engagements with adverts. For this reason display advertising is now often seen as a branding method, in a similar way to sponsorship.
People do still promote specific products and offers via display adverts. However, with no guarantees for the number of clicks or downloads etc, marketers are increasingly looking for CPC deals (see below) for any non-branding activity that needs immediate sales results.
Cost-per-click advertising was introduced due to the increased capability to track new engagement metrics on the web. This model enables people to pay only for successful interactions with their advert, and as such it is much easier to track the ROI (return on investment) that your advertising provides. Google AdWords and Facebook advertising use this model, and it is becoming increasingly common on other advertising platforms.
There are similar models that track different metrics; CPD (cost-per-download) and CPA (cost-per-acquisition) are directly linked to the end result of the process. Any of these methods are recommended for small businesses that need immediate sales results and have a tight budget, as it is much easier to compare your advertising costs to the sales they are generating.
Group Discount Sites
Many small business owners will have heard about or used websites like Groupon or LivingSocial, and if structured effectively these deals can generate good results. The principle of selling at a reduced cost to a large number of people is not new, and can be a great way of reaching untapped potential customers.
However, these sites also have their problems, and we would recommend that small business owners spend time assessing the details of the deal and all of the possible long-term outcomes. Discounting can be a great asset to generate sales, but it can also do real damage if your brand becomes permanently associated with huge percentage reductions. You may have a problem selling at your original (and profitable) prices once people see that you are able to offer a 50% discount. You also need to be able to manage an increased workload of discounted sales alongside your normal business. You donâ€™t want to be turning away full-price customers because you are too busy honouring a large number of discounted sales.
Many small businesses dismiss PR as expensive, or only relevant to large companies. This couldnâ€™t be further from the truth, and businesses of any size can gain real benefits from PR. There are now many PR sites online that allow you to post your own press releases for editors to browse. There are also affordable professional agencies that will distribute your release to the mainstream and local media for a very reasonable price.
Not only do online press releases create great quality links to your website for SEO purposes, but if you can come up with a good story that has a real human interest, the potential for promotion is enormous.
Business directories are an effective traditional source of incoming customers, and we would recommend that small businesses have listings on as many â€˜goodâ€™ directories as possible. Try and focus on sites that are genuinely used by customers to find companies, rather than sites that exist purely to provide low-quality backlinks for SEO purposes. Basically, judge a book by its cover! If a site looks professional and has a lot of regularly updated content then it is probably worth using.
Help is Available
We appreciate that all of these options may not be relevant to every small business, and some may still seem confusing if you donâ€™t have much previous experience. We offer small business website design and as part of our service we advise and assist customers with the basics of online marketing.