Good online marketing will dictate how many customers will arrive, view your web site, and possibly buy the products or services that you offer. You cannot simply open a web site, and wait for your cash registers to start ringing.
Michelle Donahue-Arpas, founder of the successful GeniusBabies.com site (http://www.geniusbabies.com) that sells infant development products learned this early on. She said,
“The biggest mistake I did when I started was to think that with so many people online they would come across or stumble on the site. No way! And it takes a long time, but once you put in a lot of hard work, it pays off.”
Marketing an online business follows the same principles as marketing a brick-and-mortar company. The goal is the same: to entice your customers to try your product or service, with the hope that their first experience will be a positive one and that they will return as customers again and again, while referring new customers.
To help improve your chance of succeeding online, we have compiled the marketing strategies that successful entrepreneurs featured in our Making it Big on the Web series have used in their online businesses. These entrepreneurs share a common story: starting with budgets of less than $5,000, they have been able to attract the audience they need using shoestring marketing strategies.
Here are the most effective online marketing strategies an Internet entrepreneur on a shoestring budget can use:
Love the search engines.
One of the most important things you can do to generate traffic to your web site and promote your business is to get listed on all the popular search engines and directories. Studies show that over 85 percent of Web users use search engines to traverse the Web. Despite the increasing cost of getting listed, search engines and online directories are by far the most popular and cost-effective marketing opportunities for the home-based entrepreneur.
Tony Roeder, founder of RedWagons.com (http://www.redwagons.com), a site that was started with less than $5,000 but now earns about $2 million a year from selling Radio Flyer toy wagons, markets his site mainly through the search engines. “We took some drastic moves into getting ourselves well positioned on the search engines. We were just well positioned on Google and Yahoo and on some other sites, and from that we got the traffic.”
Search engines are also the main online promotional tool used by Tamara Carlisle of BigKidsVideo.com, a site that distributes educational software and video products for children. “Online we focus mainly on search engine submission.”
Harness the power of the word of mouth.
Even on the Internet, word-of-mouth is a very powerful marketing tool that every entrepreneur must use. People trust the recommendations of friends, relatives and colleagues. Impress a customer with the quality of your products, service and information on your site, and chances are that he or she will spread the word about your business.
Donahue-Arpas swear by its results. In GeniusBabies.com, “Our repeat business has been our salvation. Absolutely our repeat business and our word of mouth. We ask visitors to our site how they found us and at least one of every 10 was referred by their brothers, sisters-in-law, mothers, co-workers. And I guess that’s also the same number of people they can tell if we do something wrong.”
Seek free publicity.
Public relations should be part of every Internet company’s marketing mix. While sales may not be immediate, PR campaigns can result to greater consumer awareness and enhanced overall image of the business.
Carlisle of BigKidsVideo.com considers publicity generated from media stories and other public relations campaign to be very effective in marketing her web site. According to her, “Newspapers and other means of media have been the most effective strategies for us. So when a parent is reading about our catalog in the Dallas Morning News, we’ll get hundreds and hundreds of phone calls and major amount of hits on our site.”
Publicity can oftentimes be more effective than advertising. Not only is it cost-effective, but also people are apt to remember an article about your business rather than advertising. People find a write-up or special feature about a business more credible and objective than a paid advertising.
Leave banner advertising to the big guys.
Banner advertising can be used not only to generate traffic to your web site, but also to generate brand and company product and service awareness, as well as increase sales.
To be effective, however, banners need to be carefully targeted to your demographics, creatively designed, showed to the right audience, even timing of the ad — considerations that are often far beyond the budget of small businesses. As Carlisle said, “We have tried banner advertising and hiring a web site promotion company, both of which turned out to be wastes of time and money.”
Links! Links! Links!
Charlotte Fowkes’ strategy in marketing Baby-Cakes.com always included exchanging of links. As she said, “I have never paid for any advertising on the web, even until now. Everything I’ve done is just to submit to the search engines, exchange links with similar sites, and network with other moms.”
Utilize Email Marketing. Marketing via email should be a key part of an online entrepreneur’s marketing arsenal. It is one of the least expensive ways of reaching people in a very personalized way.
Carlisle of BigKidsVideo.com understands the importance of communicating with customers and reaching potential customers who express an interest in their products via email. “Once a month, we do a monthly promo special and we send emails to inform our customers and opt-in visitors. Like the June special is 20% off on all products and 10% off on all software. And sometimes it will be a percentage discount and or sale of baby products like Baby’s First Impressions series. Sometimes, it will be a free CD-ROM if you order more than $100.”
Donahue-Arpas relies on cross promotion to get the word out about her business. She describes her strategy as, “We prefer to do less costly, cross promotions with other etailers that share the same target market. We will include their printed promotional materials with our orders, and they in turn include our GeniusBabies.com introduction coupon. We share and swap e-newsletter ads with our e-colleagues.”
Use Social Media.
Social media has become an important marketing tool for small businesses. It allows your small business to reach your target market, help create a community among your loyal customers, engage your audiences and even allow better communication and interaction with customers. It also allows your website to build links, and can be powerful sources of traffic.
GeniusBabies.com’s Facebook page allows them to highlight new products and promotions they are currently offering. Their page has also become an important showcase of customer testimonials, receiving comments such as:
- Wow–best service ever! I’m glad I ordered from you instead of Amazon! Thanks for the fast service, good price, and little extras!
- Thank you for your excellent customer service! I appreciate everything, and I am definitely ordering more from you soon. MG
- The best educational toys I’ve found for my granddaughter. She loves them and they are very high quality.
Don’t forget offline promotion strategies.
Carlisle said “Our offline marketing consists of our 44 page catalog, sent out twice a year, and reviews of our products in industry and non-industry periodicals. Our best form of marketing, online and off, would be through press releases and articles.”
Recommended Books on Effective Online Marketing Strategies:
- The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Online Marketing (McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Courses)
- The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile Applications, Blogs, News Releases, and Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly
- Why Online Marketing Matters – How Small Business Can Get More Customers, Sales & Profits
- Online Marketing Heroes: Interviews with 25 Successful Online Marketing Gurus
- 57 Hot Business Marketing Strategies: Offline and Online Marketing Techniques, Tips And Tricks From Successful Entrepreneurs
Article originally published on July 6, 2001