This article explores some of the avenues that you might consider to promote your business online. The mention of specific services by brand name does not constitute an endorsement by the author or publisher of this article.
Build a Website
If you don’t already have a website, create one. If you don’t have the skills to do it yourself, hire someone to do it for you. If possible, buy the domain name that matches the name of your business, such as “beachcityflowers.com.” If it’s not available, you might consider going with one of the domain extensions other than .com.
Many website hosting companies offer templates that are easy to use and require no computer coding expertise. You simply type in the information you want on each page and upload your photos. For $5 to $10 per month, you can have a professional-looking website within a few days. The bottom line is that you can’t effectively function without a website and email address. Don’t use a free email service like hotmail or gmail because it doesn’t look professional. After you set up your website, create an address that incorporates your domain name, such as “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Make sure your site has a “hit counter” that records all visits to your website. This feature is included with most hosting services, or you can use one of the many free counters. Depending on the level of sophistication, your counter will identify where the visits are coming from, how long they stay, and if they return within a specified period of time.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The goal of SEO is to place your website link as high as possible in the organic list of search results. This applies to all search engines, not just Google. The reason SEO is important is because you don’t have to pay anything on the organic side of the search page. Here are a few tips for improving your ranking:
- Keep it organized and simple – If people come to your site and can’t easily find what they’re looking for, you will lose a potential customer.
- Link Addresses (URLs) – Make your pages easy to find by using URLs that include clear keywords.
- Fresh content – Keep your website updated and consider a blog as way of keeping in close touch with your visitors.
- Site Map – Include a page on your website that lists and links all the other pages on your site. This makes it easier for the web crawlers to search your site.
- Keywords – Make sure your website title tag and page header contain your best keywords that are likely to be used in search. Also include keywords within the body of the content, but don’t overkill with too many.
- Internal links – Create links within your site that target specific pages, including archives that may not be linked on your home page. Make the text hyperlink as relevant as possible to your search keywords.
- Install links on your site to other relevant sites, and have them return the favor.
- Monitor where you stand – Periodically check where your website appears in organic search results. You can use services such as Alexa and Google Toolbar to help you do this. Make sure your website is equipped with a referrer log so you can tell what search terms are most effective and where your clicks are coming from.
When you do a search on Google, you will see entries on both the left and right side of the page. The left side contains the “organic” search results that are ranked according to relevance to the search term entered. Those listings are free, so if you can get your website near the top of the list, it’s a great boon to your business. The right side contains paid ads that are ranked according to the maximum amount the advertiser is willing to pay each time someone clicks on it.
Google Adwords is one of the popular services that allows you to design your ad, set a daily and per-click budget, and determine where and when the ad will appear. You also establish a set of keywords that will trigger your ad when someone searches for one of your keywords. Where your ad appears on the page is a function of how your per-click bid compares to all other advertisers bidding on the same keyword.
The power of social media to spread your message can’t be overestimated. This form of marketing is about creating relationships and promoting interaction among large numbers of people who are current and potential customers. It’s an effective way of sharing information about your products and services with a diverse audience.
Some of the most popular social networking communities are familiar names that you may already be using: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- Facebook – With over 600 million active users, this site allows users to set up unique profiles and exchange messages and other information. You can promote your business by setting up a dedicated profile page and joining groups related to your business.
- YouTube – Allows unlimited uploading of videos that can be used to promote your business and products at no cost.
- Twitter – A social networking and microblogging service that allows text-based messages of up to 140 characters. Businesses use it to stay connected in real-time to gather market intelligence, share information, generate interest in their services and products, obtain feedback, and build lasting customer relationships.
- LinkedIn – This online network caters to business professionals who want to stay in touch, exchange knowledge and ideas, and search for new business opportunities. Many companies also use it as a hiring resource, so it’s a good place to get your business noticed even if you aren’t looking for a job.
This article only scratches the surface of the online marketing world, and it is changing daily. The fact is that you can easily launch a marketing campaign that will reach hundreds of millions of people and spread your brand at minimal cost. The ability to do that didn’t exist before the internet came on the scene.
If you don’t have the expertise to do this on your own, hire someone. The return on your investment will be more than enough to pay for their help and then some. The beauty of this is that once your business is visible within social media circles, you will benefit from word-of-mouth advertising that costs you nothing. It really is a win-win proposition.
Michael Sanibel is a freelance writer specializing in business, marketing, personal finance, law, science, aviation, sports, entertainment, travel, and political analysis. He graduated from the United States Air Force Academy and is also licensed to practice law in California and New Hampshire. Michael wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (http://www.debbiemay.com/), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.