"Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come".
French Novelist and Poet
Victor was right. In the short ten years we've had access to the Internet; the world has changed dramatically.
Just contemplate these statistics for a moment:
- There are now approximately 934 million Internet users worldwide
- Projections from technology research company Forrester indicate that, by 2006, total online sales will increase to more than $560 billion dollars a year.
- In the last few years, China has grown to 99 million Internet users
- Online advertising spend has reached a record $9.4 billion in the US alone, with research firms expecting businesses will double their spending on web advertising by 2008.
Think about all the things you can do online that were impossible (or at least a little ‘sci-fi') just ten years ago:
- Researching your favorite topics
- Booking plane trips
- Paying household bills
- Internet banking
- Getting in touch with long lost friends
- Buying or selling houses; and almost anything else you can think of
Just as the industrial revolution radically changed the way mass goods were produced, the Internet is now changing the way business operates at its core.
Small businesses that were once restricted to a small local market can now trade on a global scale. Selling goods and services to the world out of your garage is now a practical reality.
But the flipside to this amazing growth is that the competition for customer dollars is now fiercer than ever.
The web makes it easy to shop around for anything, so just ‘having a website’ is not enough. Whatever industry you're in, your website needs to offer compelling benefits to your customers.
You need to stand out from the crowd.
Web surfers need an easy way to find you when using their favorite search engine.
Your website needs to save customers time, money or hassles (preferably all three). It needs to solve their problems or provide them better value than they can get from your competitors.
The bottom line is - your website needs to deliver real value.
Unfortunately, lack of quality traffic is the number one reason why many small business websites fail.
Most people would agree that getting your website up and running is relatively easy - the hard part is getting people to visit your website and take action.
This is called the ‘Billboard in a Desert’ problem.
As an example, imagine you're building a five star restaurant:
- You spend a fortune fitting it out and buying the best equipment you can get your hands on.
- The food is fresh and prepared by the best chefs money can buy.
- All of your staff have been trained at the best hospitality schools in the world.
In short, you're a perfectionist and no detail has been spared. . . except the location - it's in the middle of the Sahara Desert.
Would it survive?
Of course it wouldn't. Without prominent exposure and foot traffic you'd be dead in a week. The same goes for your website.
Real World Internet Marketing Strategies
Fortunately, there are several simple and cost-effective ways you can attract people to your website.
1. Search Engine Optimization
Major Search engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN are the first place 85% of all web surfers visit to find information.
If your website is built to be search engine friendly, you can generate a great deal of free traffic to your site.
We've all heard the real-estate mantra of ‘location-location-location’. Well, getting listed in search engines is exactly the same - it's all about ‘position-position-position’.
Most web users don't look past the first two pages of search results - so anything past this point is useless. To be truly effective, your website needs to be ranked within the top 30 results.
Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to a combination of strategies designed to make a website more appealing to search engines and therefore achieve a higher ranking.
In layman's terms, search engine optimization (SEO) means getting your website found in search engines.
Please note that there is no magic wand to magically place you in the top results. If there were, everybody would be using it and it would lose its effectiveness overnight.
There are, however, proven guidelines that will dramatically increase your chances of getting a good ranking.
2. Pay-Per-Click Advertising
In addition to the regular search results, all major search engines sell advertising space called ‘sponsored links’.
This form of advertising is called ‘Pay-Per-Click’ and is the fastest way to attract targeted traffic to your website.
Pay-Per-Click advertising works by allowing you to bid on keywords that are relevant to your business.
For example, if you sell cell phone accessories, you might bid 20 cents for the keyword phrase ‘cell phone accessories’.
When a user searches for ‘cell phone accessories’ your ad will appear in the sponsored links area. By clicking on the ad they are taken directly to your website and you're charged 20 cents for the click.
Pay-Per-Click advertising is extremely effective because it's targeted.
Unlike a typical ‘shot-gun’ marketing approach, your ad is only displayed to the people who are actively searching for your products and services.
Search engine optimization focuses on improving your ranking in the natural results. Pay-Per-Click advertising focuses on the sponsored results area.
As indicated by the name, Pay-Per-Click advertising means you only pay when somebody clicks on your ad. This is a vital point that distinguishes PPC from other forms of Internet advertising.
Because of its highly targeted nature, PPC is fast becoming the most popular type of online promotion available to small businesses.
3. Free Traffic Sources
In conjunction with paid advertising, the Internet also offers numerous free sources of traffic.
- Writing helpful articles to promote yourself in industry-based websites.
- Publishing media releases to get free exposure.
- Establishing joint ventures with other businesses to promote your product and services to their database of customers.
- Funneling traffic from popular websites like eBay and online shopping directories.
4. Email Marketing
Did you know that most people spend more time reading their emails than they do surfing the web?
It's true - email is the number one application on the Internet with over 500 million users worldwide.
According to Forrester Research, in 1999 email marketing revenue was $164 million; today, email marketing is more than a $5 billion a year industry.
When you take into account the negligible cost of producing and sending an email, compared with 25 cents to $3 for the postal equivalent, it's easy to see why email marketing has grown so much in popularity.
Permission-based email marketing is used by over 80% of the world's largest companies, including Amazon, Microsoft, Ford, Dell, HP and eBay.
According to a recent DoubleClick Consumer Email Study:
- Permission-based email is the most preferred method of communication from online merchants to consumers: 75% rated it as their first preference, with only 25% preferring postal mail and 0% choosing telemarketing.
- Over 78% of all online shoppers have made purchases online as a result of email marketing.
- 80% of all online shoppers say they want to receive email from their favorite online merchants.
Regardless of what industry you're in, email is one of the most powerful mediums you can use to communicate with your customers.
By keeping in constant contact with your customers, you can substantially increase your sales and reduce your expenses.
Adrian Mullan is the founder of WebDummy.com.au a full service web design and internet marketing company, specializing in ecommerce website design and search engine optimization.