How to use online marketing

As a small business, you can't ignore the internet. But that's no bad thing - it offers up so many opportunities for free or very cheap marketing as well as many advantages over traditional forms of marketing that you'd be foolhardy not to even consider it as a marketing tool.

This guide introduces you to the different ways you can leverage the web to market your business and the relative pros and cons of each type of activity.

Why use online marketing?

  • In 2008, 65% of all UK households had access to the internet - the web is increasingly becoming one of the most important ways to reach your potential client base.
  • There are more ways to market either cheaply or for free online than there are marketing offline.
  • It's easier to measure the effectiveness of online marketing than it is with more traditional methods. Detailed statistics and analyses provide you with reports on how many people have clicked on links, registered interest, what sites they have come from, and so on.
  • There is far greater potential to go 'viral' (where a campaign is spread by people of their own accord to their friends and contacts because they find it interesting, rather than because they have been paid or incentivised to market your business).
  • It is often easier to drive consumers from your campaign or advertising to a purchase. Rather than seeing an ad and remembering to go into a specific shop, they can simply click on a link and be taken straight to a purchase online.
  • You have greater reach - in fact, you potentially have a global audience.
  • You can use interactivity in your market to better engage customers.
  • Through social media, you can have a dialogue with customers rather than bombarding them with brand messages in an annoying way.
  • Resultantly, you also have better opportunity for receiving the all-crucial customer feedback.

What's out there?

  • Your own website is an absolute must, whether or not you choose to sell through it. Read more in our guide how to create a website for your business.
  • SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It means getting your website to rank high on Google and other search engines. It's crucial for helping people find your business online. Read more in our guide on SEO.
  • Display adverts are the adverts you see online - they now cone in a wide variety of types, including expandables, transitions, superstitials, drop-downs and page peels. They can help drive traffic to your site and can often be highly targeted, plus you can limit your daily budget, but they can also be annoying for users. Find out more in our guide on advertising online.
  • Pay per click adverts are the small yellow boxes you see at the top of search engine listings (on Google, for example), which give featured businesses more prominence than just being listed normally.
    • You only pay when someone clicks on the advert (and so reaches your website).
    • You can pay Google for pay per click ads, or go through a pay per click company.
    • Usefully, you can limit your daily budget and specify the exact keywords you want to appear for, enabling you, in theory, more targeted advertising.
    • The drawback, though, is that in practise keywords can be a lot less specific than you might hope, and you might get lots of people clicking on your ad - and so costing you money - who aren't really interested in what your business does.
  • Social media includes sites such as YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, MySpace and Bebo. It's free to use and can be a good way to build your brand online, but only if your target audience uses the site in question and you have time to maintain your profile.
  • Affiliate marketing means getting other sites to encourage their users to go onto your website. You can ask a non-competitive website with a similar target audience to promote you in return for you promoting them. But if you're still fairly small compared to them, you may need to pay or offer your services or products for free to get them to do that.
  • Getting another site to promote you also helps up your Google ranking and SEO, as every time another site links to you, it ups your rating - ask them to add the links on your keywords.
  • Email newsletters are a good way to keep customers in the loop, particularly by drawing them in with tempting deals, but can be time-consuming and may involve costs. Read more in the section on newsletter in our guide on marketing you can do for free.
  • Paying for an online entry in a directory such as Yell.com or ThomsonLocal.com. Prices are often offered in conjunction with an entry in the printed version of the directory.
    • Your details will come up if your sector, location or company name is searched for.
    • The price of the ad varies according to its position on the search results and its size, but prices start at around under £100 per year - really very reasonable.
    • Before deciding anything, search the directory for whatever terms you'd use if you were a consumer, and see how many other businesses offer the same services - if you're swamped by thousands, you'll need a larger ad, whereas if there's only one or two, you can get away with the cheapest listing.
    • More industry-specific ones may suit your target customer better - call up, talk to the advertising sales team, and get a full run-down of their user figures and an idea of demographics.
  • Blogging. A regular blog on your business website keeps your things fresh. This works two-fold - it keeps regular users interested, and it ups your Google ranking.
    • Updating a blog regularly can be time-consuming, although you only need update once or twice a week.
    • Look at how many users come to your website daily (Google Analytics can tell you this) to see how worthwhile maintaining a blog is in terms of user engagement. Of course, you could always start one off, then look at how many people are actually reading it to decide whether or not to carry on with it.
    • If you do do a business blog, don't just write about what the company has been doing that week - write about wider industry news, comment on trends - anything your target customer is likely to be interested in. It's okay to talk about business happenings, but try to link news to a wider observation unless it's particularly interesting for the customer.
    • http://blog.huddle.net/  is an example of a really good business blog that ticks all the boxes - but don't be intimidated by how much content and multimedia it has - this is the ideal, and your customers won't expect you to have gone this far!
    • Include plenty of images and links to keep it interesting.
    • And if you've gone to the trouble of writing a blog, make sure it's prominent on your homepage so users can actually find it.

Measuring results online

  • Whatever marketing you do online, you need to closely monitor results.
  • Google Analytics is a free, straight-forward tool for doing this.
  • There are various ways you can measure success online. Firstly, here are all the ways you can analyse various aspects of your online activity:
  • Hits: the number of times someone clicks on a page of a website. Can be misleading though - see below.
  • Unique users: a unique user is one IP address - in other words, one computer. Helps you distinguish how many people are visiting your site, where measuring hits can mislead. For example, if you get 20 hits but only 5 uniques, you know that in fact only five people have visited your site.
  • (Page) impressions: how many times a page of your website is viewed. Useful for comparing how popular different pages within your site are.
  • Time spent on site: useful for measuring how engaging your site is, as obviously you want users to spend as much time as possible on your site to build brand affinity or to encourage them into a sale. If, for example, people are only visiting a page with 2,000 words of copy on it for an average of seven seconds, you need to drastically reduce the amount of copy.
  • Click-throughs: how many people click on a certain link on a page. It's well worth putting in lots of internal links (links to other pages within your site) on keywords, as this ups your search engine ranking. Monitor how popular various links are to tailor your strategy for this. If you create a free account on snipurl.com to create the links, you can monitor how many people re clicking on links.
  • Bounce rate: how many people enter a page of your website then leave the site straight away again, rather than clicking through to another part of your site. The higher your bounce rate, the less engaging you website is for the user. Play round with the design, content and navigation of the page until you see the bounce rate going down. (See our guide on *designing your website*.)
  • Source of traffic: where visitors of your site are coming from. Definitely worth keeping an eye on, as you need to monitor who is directing them there, how well any affiliate sites are doing that you've asked to publicise you, and where you're getting the most exposure - as you can then focus on becoming more exposed.
    • Also helps monitor the success of any SEO or advertising you've invested in.
    • If you're not getting any traffic from a site you've placed an advert on, remove the ad so you're not wasting money.
    • Where your customers have been before visiting you can also tell you more about their online habits, helping to build your profile of them.
  • What the most popular sections on each page are: using Google Analytics, you can see where visitors to your site are clicking and what parts of a page are most popular. Use this to see what content is most popular, so you can focus on more of the same.
  • Pay per click: you pay according to how many people have actually clicked on an advert.
  • Pay per impression: you pay according to how many time an advert has appeared (so pay per click is usually preferable as it provides more tangible results, but you need to be careful about whether the traffic you get from click-throughs is worthwhile - look at how much time people are spending on your site).
  • But, using the tools and analyses listed above, you also need to monitor how much impact a campaign is having. There's no point having thousands of hits on your websites if you're still not making any sales. So always track web analytics against sales, interest, or whatever key performance indicators you're using to measure the success of your objectives.

Jargon buster

Traffic: general term for describing how many number are visiting a website (can be measured more specifically using any of the variables above)

Key performance indicators (KPIs): quantifiable indicators for measuring success - such as number of sales, number of enquiries, number of email addresses submitted by customers and so on.

Resources

To help you along, we've created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online tools package for growing your business. Website, Business Planning, Accounts, Legal Docs and Email - all in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out today! Other resources include:

Smarta Business Builder

To help you on your business journey, we've created Smarta Business Builder, the complete online tools package for growing your business. Website BuilderBusiness PlansAccounting SoftwareLegal Documents and Email - all in one place - from just £20 per month with no contract! Try it out today.

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