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Online Marketing, A Primer

By: Josh Ewin at MrEwin

Submitted on Sun, Aug 19th, 2007 12:00 am

For the purposes of this article, we’ll assume that you, the reader, know nothing or very little about online marketing in general. With that in mind, I’d like to share common means of advertising online.

Planning
The first key to marketing, whether it be online or not, is planning your campaign. If you don’t have a business plan now, you need to write one and come back to this article. Joe Kennedy has written a terrific guide on business plan development in his book, The Small Business Owner’s Manual. I highly suggest reading it as you complete your plan.

With your business plan in hand, you’ll have the research and resources you need in order to target the best possible market for your goods or services and create a plan that fits within your budget and is profitable. To start, you’ll need a profile of your target market. This profile will likely become more defined, once you have some historic data available. For the time being however, you’ll need to know the following: who, where and why.

Who: who is likely to buy your product? Be as specific as possible. For example; if you are selling a book about small business management, the who would be small business owners and managers. Build a profile of these people and get to know them. Age, sex, level of education and income are the basics, however you can get more in depth as you find out more specifically (i.e. business owners of manufacturing companies) who is buying your product.

Where: when we market online, we want to know where your target market is going online. What resources are they visiting? inc.com? perhaps business related forums or industry websites? What search engine do they prefer

Why: you need to know the trigger for your market. If you’ve created your business plan, this should boil down to your USP (unique selling proposition). Does your research (i.e. visiting competitor websites, reading articles, checking forums, etc) indicate that price is a large factor in the buying process for your market (if it is, you may want to rethink your USP)? Perhaps quick delivery or specific guarantees on your product are important.

With your who, where and why in hand (and your budget, of course), let’s look at how we can find those people and bring them to your website, with the intention of buying.

Links
Link trading is as old as the internet. Although in recent years, link trading has become a commodity market, as a result of the link popularity game with the search engines, it still pays to link to the right sites… and more importantly, have them link back to you. Link lists, with the exception of well arranged directories, are dead. Using pages upon pages of nothing but text links won’t do much for you. It is not terribly useful to users and the search engines won’t take much notice either.

What you want to do is find ways to insert links to your partner sites within site copy. The context of that site copy, should match the site you are linking to. For example, in the second paragraph of this article, I mentioned and linked to Joe Kennedy’s book. That book and certainly a good portion of copy on Joe’s website, mentions many of the keywords within the paragraph I have written: business plan, business plan development, marketing.

When used by your link partners, this strategy does two BIG things: 1) it increases your conversion to sale for visitors coming from that link to your website; 2) the placement of that link within the context of similar site copy increases the value of that link to your website, with respect to link popularity in the search engines.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is the art and science of achieving valuable rankings within search engines like Google and Yahoo!. Notice that I use the term valuable. In order to receive a respectable volume of traffic that converts into sales, your website needs to rank well for keywords that are not only specifically related to your product, but also, that your target audience is searching for. For example, if you sell tennis shoes made specifically for trail running, ranking well for the term “tennis shoe” isn’t nearly as valuable as ranking well for the term “trail running tennis shoe”.

Selecting the right keywords to target is a bit of a science. Although there are many tools, like the Overture Keyword Search Tool and WordTracker, I highly suggest checking out WebCEO, which simplifies the process to a degree. No one tool will provide you with comprehensive and exact feedback regarding which keywords to use, so use a few.

With your keywords chosen, you’ll need to optimize your website for the terms that you have selected. Optimizing your website takes time, and ultimately, you need historic information in order to fine tune your rankings.

Entire books have been written (i.e. Aaron Wall’s SEO Book) on search optimization; but for now, we’ll stick to the basics. Your website copy, navigation and meta-tags need to be fine tuned to target the keywords you have chosen. Planning ahead of time (preferably before the site is built!) you should have a very clear idea of what content will go where on your website, and how that content matches your keywords. For example, if one of your products is men’s trail running shoes, then collect your related keywords (i.e. men’s trail running, trail racing, men’s hiking shoe) and build them naturally into your site copy on the page that features your men’s trail running shoe product. The file name, meta-tags, page title, image alt tags and in-bound links to this page should all match the theme dictated by your selected keyword phrases.

Pay Per Click (PPC)
Pay per click marketing is essentially a way for search engines to earn additional profit by offering contextual advertising within search results. That may be a mouthful, but it works like this: you compete with other advertisers to have your text-based advertisements displayed within specific search results. How do you compete? With money, of course. Depending on the keyword, you pay a search engine each time that your advertisement is clicked. In order to be displayed, your bid for that keyword (on a per-click basis) needs to be high enough, but also needs to be enticing enough for users to click. If they don’t click, the search engine doesn’t make money and your ad is replaced by one that is clicked more often.

Pay per click marketing can be a great and very formulaic way to promote your business online. However, beware that you need to know your market and your margins before competing in this space.

Paid Placement
Paid placement advertising is simple and still works. It used to be that you could create a snazzy 468×60 banner (online advertisements displayed as images are called banners) on a website and people would click. Over time, surfers have become savvy to online advertising and more often than not, overlook such advertisements. As with all other forms of online marketing discussed in this article, targeting is important.

However, there are a few tricks that work well in converting surfers into clicks and clicks into sales. First, know the website that you wish to advertise on. Any website selling advertising should be happy to provide you with a rate card. A rate card is simply an inventory of available ad spots throughout their website, and the cost for a monthly run in each ad spot. It gets a little more complicated though.

As websites grow and more traffic comes to the website, ad spots are often put into a rotation. If your ad is displayed on a page that receives 100,000 impressions (impression is a term used to describe the number of times an advertisement is viewed) per month, and that ad spot is in a 1:2 rotation, this would mean that you would receive 50,000 impressions. However, if that same ad spot is in a 1:10 rotation, you would only receive 10,000 impressions per month.

Impressions are the first part of the paid placement equation. Once a user clicks that banner to visit your website, you still need to convert them into a sale. If, for example, the visitors that frequent the website that you’ve purchased advertising on are only interested in free products and services (if not properly targeted, this is a very real possibility), you are unlikely to convert those users into a sale. As a part of your search optimization process, your website should already be fine-tuned to convert visitors into customers.

You’ll need to know something about the demographic that your ad partner is picking up. Before purchasing online advertising, ask about who visits the website that you might advertise on. What search terms do they use to find it? What kind of response are other advertisers receiving? Visit the website yourself for a month or two. Do advertisers stick around? If so, there is a reason. Are you seeing new companies advertising on the website every month? This is a good indication that companies have tested the waters, received poor impressions or conversions and given up.

Know your numbers
With all of these forms of advertising, none of them will work well, if you don’t check your website statistics. There are many, many analytic tools for understanding who is visiting your website, where they are coming from and what they are interested in. Your web host should offer a few free options, like AWStats. This is fine to begin with. However, you’ll have a better picture of the results of your efforts by using a more comprehensive tool like Urchin, or my favorite, Google Analytics.

About the Author

Josh Ewin
MrEwin
MrEwin.com is an E-Business Analysis blog containing up to the minute articles, reviews and interviews with industry leaders regarding the current state and future direction of e-commerce.

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