Internet Marketing 101 for Small Businesses
Types, Tactics, Costs, Tracking, and More
In general, internet marketing includes any promotional strategies and tactics a business executes online to reach its target market. Today, most consumers search online for information before buying products or using services, so all businesses should have an online presence as part of their marketing mix.
Types and Tactics
- Website: Websites are a great way to establish your brand identity. They can use text, images, audio, and video elements to convey the company's message, as well as inform existing and potential customers of the features and benefits of the company's products or services. The website may or may not include the ability to capture leads from potential customers or directly sell a product or service online.
- Search engine marketing (SEM): SEM involves marketing through search engines, either by improving the site's natural (organic) ranking through search engine optimization (SEO), buying pay-per-click (PPC) ads, or purchasing pay-for-inclusion (PFI) listings in website directories, which are similar to offline yellow page listings.
- Email marketing: Email can be an effective way to maintain a connection between your business and its customers. You can purchase email addresses of customers and prospective customers, but the best results usually come from emails collected on your website. You can entice people to give you their emails through a quality free offer, such as a downloadable resource, called a lead magnet. Once you have their email, you can send a newsletter, special offers, and other information your target market would be interested in—as long as you follow laws and regulations around email marketing.
- Display advertising: You can buy ad space on other websites that cater to your target market. Pricing varies depending on the volume of traffic to the website and the size and placement of your ad.
- Publicity: Getting your business featured on media outlets can be a great way to reach new customers, but connecting with the right people to make it happen can sometimes be difficult. You can always submit and post press releases for news and announcements from your business through online press release distribution services. While press releases can work, they can also be time-consuming and are often ignored. Another option that often produces better results is to sign up for media requests through Help A Reporter Out. Once you sign up, you'll receive emails listing requests for professional sources from media outlets, including newspapers, magazines, radio and TV programs, blogs, and podcasts.
- Community participation: You can create or participate in forums or discussion groups around your area of expertise to establish yourself as a thought leader in that area. Answering questions, posting comments, expressing opinions, or making announcements in a discussion forum is also a great way to connect and help your target market.
- Content marketing: Writing articles or blog posts related to your business and submitting them to be published on other websites is another great way to reach your target market for free. Although mass distribution of a single article across the web doesn't have the same SEO benefits it once had, submitting exclusive articles to a specific site can still reap many rewards including SEO, boosting your credibility, and reaching a market that might not otherwise know about you. Because writing can be time-consuming, you may want to consider how you can repurpose what you write into other forms of content or with new angles for other audiences.
- Social media marketing: In an increasingly connected world where consumers expect the companies they do business with to engage with them, social media is an ideal way to interact with prospects and customers. The key to social media marketing success is focusing on the platforms where you're most likely to find your target market, whether it's Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, or Pinterest. To make sure you're not wasting time with your social media efforts, develop a strategy and content plan, and research tools that will help make the posting easier, such as Hootsuite or Buffer.
A good amount of marketing on the internet can be done for free, but sometimes it's worth spending some money on effective and professional looking options. For example, although you can get free web hosting, it's not recommended. Ideally, you should pay for web hosting to make sure that your website doesn't experience downtime, as well as a professional domain name. Fortunately, you can buy both for less than $100 a year.
An email management service is another expense you should be open to taking on. MailChimp offers free email list management for up to 2,000 subscribers, but you'll want to price out other options to see which services offer all the features you need and are the most affordable in the long run.
Beyond that, you'll want to consider your market and budget for other paid options. Doing Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) through sites like Google AdWords or Facebook ads can be effective with the right type of engaging content.
Whether your marketing strategies cost money or not, they all take time. You don't want to waste time or money on tactics that aren't delivering results, which means you need to track what's working and what's not working.
There are many ways to determine which efforts are producing results and which ones aren't. For example, you can study your website's analytics through your web host or by using Google Analytics. Most social media sites provide analytics as well, or you can use tools such as HootSuite to get social media analytics. Your email service should also provide you with information on the open rates and engagement rates for your emails.
When you see that something isn't working, take some time to find out why it's not working before ditching it. For example, if people aren't opening your emails, try testing out different versions of subject lines.
Marketing is a Marathon
While it is possible to see results from your marketing efforts quickly, the reality is that marketing, especially the type that generates long-term results and referrals, takes time. You're competing in an increasingly crowded and loud marketplace. The better you can connect with your ideal market and develop a relationship with it, the better your results will be. If you provide a great product or service and are attentive to your customers, your customers will provide you with positive reviews, referrals, and testimonials that will help you stand out in the crowd.
How much of your marketing strategy should be done online and which internet marketing elements you use depends on the nature of your business, your budget, your time, and your goals. Many small business owners do it all themselves in the beginning, but as their businesses grow, they begin to pay for services or outsource work to a virtual assistant that can help them with online marketing.