Starting an Online Business Part 2; Internet Marketing

Getting a fully functional website and email set up is the first stage of getting a business online, next you have to think about letting people know it’s there, unsurprisingly, the best way to do that is online with Internet marketing.

A common misconception, or simply unconsidered thing for new website owners, is assuming that once the website is built it will automatically be just in the right place on Google searches and have flood of traffic coming in. Unfortunately that’s an impossibility, there are thousands of companies in the world offering the same services, they can’t all be ideally positioned on search engines, so that makes your first Internet marketing investment…

Search engine optimisation

Search sites like Google dominate the driving of most traffic online, leading to the practice of search engine marketing. There are a few approaches to this but the key essential to initially focus on should always be SEO.

This is a simple enough concept often confused by web design “gurus” trying to sell things online. basically, you want to make your site look attractive to the mathematical algorithms search engines like Google work around. In the most basic terms, if you have a plumbing website, you have to make sure the word plumbing is used plenty of times throughout the site so that Google knows it’s a site about plumbing; it becomes a “keyword” for that business website.

Some web design companies package SEO with the website build but most do not, or offer only an extremely basic level of SEO, requiring you to employ an expert to get things moving. Naturally, at Smart Domain Group it is built into our web design packages, but you can still get the most of it by doing some advance research and if you want to keep the costs low when starting up you need to be prepared to build on the foundations laid yourself.

Any business owner should be able to draw up a list of likely keywords describing their business; the primary services, location and industry specific terms for example. Given this starting point your SEO can then research which of these terms are the most popularly used in web searches and how competitive they are, helping highlight a shorter list of keywords to focus on.

The copy on the site should then be updated to build a good level of keyword density (too little won’t be noticed, too much will look like trying to cheat the system) and add a bunch of hidden labels that search engines see but web surfers don’t, such as text labels for images, layout tables and so on. Once the website is optimised the site can be submitted to Google and should get a few reasonable search positions on some of the keywords.

The ongoing aspect is link building or “backlinking”; search engines work out how good your site is based on how many other sites link to it and the quality of those sites. You can wait around and hope that people link to you which is the bizarre advice sometimes passed around by those online gurus, in the early days at least you really need to give things a push to get them started.

Some techniques might be swapping links with key suppliers and clients, spending regular time on a good quality web forum about your market and using the autosignature tool to post a link every time you post a comment, you could also offer to write a few guest articles for good blogs in your business sector, adding a link to your website at the end. Over time these kinds of activities build you lots of quality links from other relevant websites and you rank up in search results accordingly.

Web forums are awash with people over complicating search optimisation, offering long out of date advice, or “500 links for $10” deals and so on, they won’t help; if you don’t have time to do all this link building yourself, ask your SEO provider to do some for you. Google is very focused on removing SEO cheats and shortcuts and are mercilessly banishing such websites from listings, but there are still lots of providers taking advantage of how little most website owners understand SEO.

Social networks

The second key ongoing effort is still link building, but of a different kind. The above links are primarily about building Google’s awareness of your site, so it ranks your website high and people can find you easily on search listings. You can also build links for the traditional reason; so that potential customers can find you directly, and this is where social networks like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly coming into things.

All social networks are free, but they do demand regular attention and some effort to understand properly and benefit from. Each is a little different and better suited to different businesses; Twitter is good for companies who have lots of fast moving news happening, Linked In is good for business to business services, YouTube is great if your business can generate entertaining video content. You have to give each of them consideration on their merits and benefits to you, and take a look at what your competition is doing.

All social networks vary in the best approaches but a couple of key points to consider are that you need to;

Post content to your social networks at least daily, a post which is a few hours old on Twitter or Facebook disappears down the timeline people view, so most of the time, most of your audience will not see most of your posts. If you post once a week hardly anyone will notice you even exist.

Engage in conversation, the idea of social networks is to be social, if someone posts a comment on your page, reply to it, give potential and current customers a dialogue with a real person, it gives your brand a personality people can connect with.

Don’t be a pimp, endlessly tweeting about your services doesn’t make exciting content for any audience; would you want to be friends with a plumber who posted every day on your timeline that he can fix burst pipes? No, but you might be friends with one who posts occasional DIY tips or comic photos of “weird things we’ve found in drains”. On social networks you have to give people something they want to share, give people a laugh or something useful, it gives the brand even more personality and builds trust and familiarity, so when someone does have a burst pipe, they think about that funny plumber guy on Facebook and ask for a quote.

Think of it like long running TV ad campaigns; often they have little to do with the key product being sold, the focus is on characters, atmosphere, things that make people feel connected to the brand, social networks require the same kind of mindset, rather than a typical small business approach of listing products and great prices in print ads.

Of course, offer up enough share-able content and no one minds if there’s an occasional reminder of the website, core services or special offers, and that’s where you can start building your links that people will want to follow.

Internet marketing evolves

Marketing techniques are constantly changing, five years ago social networks barely existed and you really could buy a thousand for $10 and improve your search engine position; things change over time.

In the immediate future though, things look quite clear, SEO will continue to focus increasingly on quality, and it will begin to incorporate “social authority”; evaluating how outstanding you are on social networks and applying that to search engine results. It’s already starting to happen with Twitter and Google+ and underlines the importance of these two aspects of Internet marketing.

As with the web design itself, finding a provider who can do it all is ideal, but to stay cost effective in the early days of a business it helps to cover some bases yourself, especially things like social networking which really requires no special skills, just an understanding of your potential audience.

There are details to these techniques; a good press release can really build great links for you, a few quality recognised directories can boost search and there are all sorts of emerging social networks like Pinterest that companies are just starting to work out how to use to market themselves. Focus on the essentials at first though, get optimised so you’re appearing somewhere in the search results, link build to improve that and go social with the big names like Facebook, Twitter, Linked In or Google+ to bring in a second stream of traffic so you aren’t over reliant on Google alone.

Beyond the Internet!

Finally, of course, think real world; put that web address on vans, business cards, letterhead, invoices and everything else, it should be a hub for everything. People can check bits of information like your address or a price list or service by looking at your website rather than taking up time on the phone answering mundane questions, and if you want to encourage more phone calls, get the site written in a way which does so; a business card doesn’t do any encouragement, but it can lead to a website that does.

It sounds like a lot to take on, and it is a significant investment of money and time, but once you’re set up, it’s all benefits and much lower ongoing costs that can make huge differences to small businesses. Please do drop us a line to learn more about the ways we can help you with the web design and ongoing marketing and SEO here at Smart Domain Group, our services are built around small to medium sized businesses!

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