How can a business used to offline marketing go about extending their marketing reach online?
The good news is that the traditional offline marketing that has always worked so well will still work at least as effectively to promote your online presence. The other side of the coin is that to promote your business online, some old traditions need updating to keep up with online marketing best practices.
Any business should already have a marketing plan and objectives from their offline initiatives, so let's jump straight into the technology aspects of online marketing. Let's start with a few things that can be done at low or no initial cost. Also, subsequent specialist marketing won't be as successful without these things in place. Of course, there is a huge amount more to online marketing, the extent of which could easily be justified as a full-time university course. This is the pre-school notes, to help get your site to a starting point on a low budget if you can't quite afford to be calling in the big guns to market your site for you professionally just yet.
Your offline marketing plan is a great starting point for your online marketing initiatives.
Offline marketing practices that have traditionally worked well, will still work to promote your online presence, however, the old traditions need some updating with modern tools and best practices to keep up with rapidly changing technology and customer preferences.
1. Site content and optimisation
This is always the place to start. Even your site's design, graphics and navigation need to be based on the content, at least at a high level. The effectiveness of everything which follows is dependent on initially knowing what you want to tell your site visitors. Great content and intuitive navigation are so essential that anything else you do without these in place is mostly a waste of time when it comes to being found online. Only once your site content has been written for intelligent visitors should you tweak it for search engines, but never at the expense of the former.
Search engines look at things like keywords, relevance, how long people stay on your site, and how specifically a page's text relates to a visitor's search term. By identifying 10-20 key general subjects you would like search engines to pick up on, and creating specialised pages with relevant information which utilise those terms in the right way, you will start getting much better search results immediately. Of course, these days there is a lot of competition for search rankings, and many more relevant websites out there, but making your own content the most relevant it can be is half the battle.
Content is still king.
Visitors and search engines will always be interested in the quality of your content as their primary assessment criteria. How "sticky" your website is, i.e. how long people stay and interact with your site is a big factor in both sales and search engine success.
It is a good idea to use specialised keyword phrases that extend beyond what everyone else is optimising their own pages for. For example "precision-engineered bolts" is likely to get better placement than a generic term like "engineering parts", since that is more specific, and there will be less competition from other sites. Even though the number of searches for the more specific term will be lower, you will also be up against less competition for that term, and the results for your visitors will be much more specific to exactly what they are looking for. You should also work to create a single page for every key phrase you want picked up on, and include the key phrase in the title, headings, relevant code tags such as headings and images, and use all the words in the body of the page at a reasonable density relative to other words. Don't repeat the same words over and over. Keep your writing style natural, and helpful. You should preferably include the key phrase you are wanting to rank for in the page title, as well as the URL of the page, for example, "http://www.mysite.com/precision-engineered-bolts/". Each page should use a different title, specifically based on the key phrase utilised in that page's content.
Ideally you should use a content management system which incorporates and facilitates all of the above quickly and effortlessly. A good, easy to use CMS will allow you to manage your own content updates, with minimal technical knowledge.
2. Off-site promotion
Especially useful at this stage can be participating in social media pages and forums serving your primary target market. This has the dual benefit of creating awareness of your business within communities you would like to reach, and can sometimes help create incoming links to your site, something that search engines pay particular attention to. Ensure that your site details are included wherever possible, but don't spam, and don't be overly salesy.
Off-site content on high traffic, high visibility sites is a key way to leverage traffic to your own business website.
By starting where potential customers already are, for example industry-related social media and forum pages, you can tap into a pool of prospective customers who will most benefit from what you have to offer.
Never use a social media page to spam members or submit unsolicited advertising posts -- that just has the opposite effect of destroying your business' credibility. Some sites have a separate advertising section in which it may be appropriate to professionally post information about your services and products. Always make sure that your presence represents a valuable contribution to the community. Stay on topic and be professional, helpful and constructive.
Search engines take many factors into consideration when ranking a site. New sites, for example, don't initially fare well, however you will find they will allocate some credibility weighting to you the longer your site is up and running. The biggest factor though, external to the site itself, is the number of inbound (preferably non-reciprocal) links from other sites, and the context and wording of the referring link, as well as the ranking of the referring page, and referring site. The popularity of those sites plays a big role, as well as how high up in the site's own hierarchy the link is. By way of example, a link from www.news.com.au counts for much more than a link from a very deeply embedded page like www.somesitesomewhere.com/subdirectory/theattic/someoldforgottenpage.
3. Implement online marketing partnerships with high-profile online businesses
This is where you can really benefit if implemented successfully. When I was previously running the e-commerce business unit for a large company, rather than pay high-traffic websites to advertise on their sites, which can be very much un-targeted, we offered them a percentage of sales. In other words, we provided them with the banners to promote the service, and implemented simple tracking of where our visitors were coming from, and then paid a percentage of the total revenue to the referrer. This resulted in very low marketing costs to us, and the referring sites started placing more and more emphasis on their side to ensure that we got top placement whenever they were low on paid inventory.
Another effective medium-term strategy is to provide content of value to sites which serve your target market. They benefit from your topical content, you benefit from the exposure and links.
4. Get started with paid keyword advertising
Only at this point should you actually be starting to pay for online advertising. Online ads allows you to specifically target only the types people who will benefit from, and even who have expressed an interest in, your products. which means you get a much better return on investment than simply advertising to everyone. This can take some trial and error to find what works best, but the amount you pay should be less than the amount of business you generate, and should normally include full measurement and reports on a reasonably regular basis preferably online.
Targeted online advertising allows you to focus on people already interested in your products or services.
Specifically you can advertise to people searching for the exact products and services you offer, on sites catering to your target demographics, and even to re-target people who have visited your website previously or interacted with your brand electronically in the past.
For this purpose, Google is an obvious choice. You can advertise your business in relevant search result, or on other websites that monetise their content using embedded Google ads. They are by far the most popular search engine globally, they provide detailed reports online, and are probably the most likely to produce results initially. Social media sites also offer excellent choices for advertising. Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube and Instagram are all popular options, offering a variety of options and demographic audiences.
5. Involve an internet marketing specialist
Arguably you should really do this early on in the process. Experts who specialise in online marketing for a living will save you a lot of money that you could otherwise waste through trial and error. Technology changes rapidly, and doing it all yourself will be a formidable task.
By familiarising yourself early on with what is available however, when you do start working with a specialist, you should be in a good position to ask some intelligent questions. Preferably deal only with a business that has a good reputation (ask for client contact details so you can find out how effective they are), and has preferably has been around for at least a few years, and has a solid track history. They should also provide very detailed reports (ask for examples of these up front), and be able to explain how they go about promoting your site, on which sites they do so, the relative pros and cons of each, and which will have the best fit for your specific business goals and target market. They should also communicate with you regularly to review successes and failures, and make ongoing recommendations about how best to promote your business. At any time, you should be in a position to evaluate your return on investment for various promotions, and be able to change your focus accordingly.
Experts who specialise in online marketing for a living will both save you money, and make you money in the long run.
By familiarising yourself about online marketing options, you will be in a good position to ask some intelligent questions and move forward with the most suitable online marketing campaigns.
Especially be wary of businesses who claim unrealistically quick results, or base their business mainly only on search engine submission or heavily on paid advertising only, with very little long term strategy. Especially avoid any business that uses deceptive practices to try and "trick" search engines into ranking you higher, these will almost always have the opposite effect sooner or later as search engine algorithms change and they penalise sites that use them. In most cases, shady online practices will inevitably lead to your site being removed or ranked very low by search engines.
So in closing, make a sincere effort to understand the opportunities that internet marketing offers your business. Create a plan of attack and get in the game. Keep up to date at a high level with long term technology trends, work with experts, and repeat what works for you specifically over time. Then enjoy the benefits of your online marketing investments sending continual business opportunities your way.