Online marketing

I’m really excited by the opportunities the Internet offers small business. What’s changed in the last decade? It’s the ease with which we can now offer goods and services to broader markets. What’s changed just in the last few years? Well, the investment required has dropped, and is now easily within reach.

So many small businesses have responded to the opportunity by getting out onto the web. But what are the results? Effective marketing has such an influence on ANY business. So if the results from a web presence aren’t strong enough, sooner or later the conversation turns to … online marketing.

Marketing online is similar to marketing ‘offline’ in some ways, and very different in others. One familiar truth remains – there are a seemingly endless variety of marketing strategies and tactics that can part you from your cash (at an alarming rate).

For example, could your business gain from effective use of … pay per click advertising, search engine optimisation and organic search rankings, link-building, email autoresponders, web copywriters, affiliates, keyword analysis, content marketing? The list goes on, and you can spend a lot of time just trying to figure out what is involved, let alone how much it costs and what benefits it might offer you.

Its not even a case of some marketing approaches are better than others – like any marketing, it depends on what you want to achieve and how you go about it. There is also a strong element of personal choice. For example, some business owners instinctively avoid the more direct forms of marketing, and prefer to focus on permission based marketing or influencing based strategies.

Whatever your personal preferences and circumstances, small business owners are going to benefit if they can sift through the options and identify what will work most effectively for them. The good news is, just because you are online you don’t need to be a technical guru, and you don’t need to learn everything at once.

Overall I’m asking you to consider this question – are you marketing effectively online? If not, could you benefit by learning more and applying specific strategies and tactics to improve your business? My take is that as the Internet continues to mature, the businesses that are good at online marketing will reap substantial benefits. So its worth putting in some effort in this area.

No doubt you’d like to be inspired rather than confused. To understand complex areas, I always find it useful to have a strong framework to organise my thoughts. So for online marketing, I propose this framework to you:

Presence Optimise your presence on the Internet.
Traffic Build traffic for your web presence.
Interest Interest your prospects and engage with their buying process.
Conversion Convert interest into sales.
Follow Up Follow up your customers and prospects appropriately.

You won’t find this approach in any marketing text books. I’ve developed it because it helps a small business owner to look at their business online, while mapping strongly to the way ‘offline’ business works.

For example, your business will have some kind of presence (such as retail premises, office or physical catalog), and you need traffic. Once potential customers express interest in your product or service, you need to respond with appropriate information to help them decide. At some point, you succeed in converting interest to a purchase. Following up includes both customers (for after sale service or referrals) and prospects (who may still be interested in your products). The same model is very useful for an online business, although the strategies and tactics at each stage may vary substantially.

I’ll be posting more about online marketing for small business, using this 5 part model to put it all in context. Perhaps you will be inspired to step back and update/develop your Online Marketing Plan (or e-Marketing Plan). Or perhaps you’ll identify a few tactics you want to start with right away.

For those interested in going into this in more detail, I’m cross-posting to my blog at PublicityShip. At some stage I plan to offer an email based course for small business owners – if you have ideas on what you’d like to see covered, please leave a comment or send me an email.