Marketing Tools for Small Internet Businesses
by Shannon Kinnard
Small Internet-based businesses can now compete by using the same marketing strategies that are used in major online marketing campaigns. It took just a little digging to unearth the buried jewels that are all over the Internet. Here’s your own personal treasure map to the best marketing deals online, set up in the order of the traditional marketing mix: product, price, place, promotion.
Consider that when you run an online business that your Web site is actually the face to your product. The first and most important step in your online marketing endeavors is building the absolute best site you can afford to build. “It should be the goal of every web marketer to anticipate what questions their site visitors or prospects might ask and include this information when writing copy for their web site. Leaving out salient information is one sure way to send your prospects to your competition’s site,” says Gary K. Foote, Editor of The E-marketing Digest, an e-zine that has been focused on the topic of internet marketing since early 1997. (To Subscribe: email@example.com Message: subscribe .)
Go2Net’s Hypermart offers free business hosting in exchange for advertising real estate on your site. Build your site with the design and functionality tools that are available through Hotwired’s Webmonkey. Especially useful are the graphic design lessons, programmer’s tools, style sheets, free graphics, and free fonts.
Once you’ve built the best site you know how to build, get outside opinions. Three online gems that provide valuable feedback are ‘Rate My Site’ at http://www.promotingyoursite.com, ‘Critics Corners Review Board’ at http://lrsmarketing.com/wwwboard/index.html.
If your site is the product you offer, then the time a prospect spends on your site is the ‘price’ they pay. Give them a bargain by addressing the following: ease of navigation, quick download times, and e-commerce abilities. Tools to help you do these things are available at C/Net’s Builder.com.
Commerce-enabling tools are available for a reasonable, one-time fee of $750 per domain from PDG Software. “Our pricing is based on a one-time purchase and ongoing support. Some software companies see their customers as oil wells, bilking them for money every time they want to add more products to their site!” says Karen Snyder, co-founder of PDG. “We let businesses grow their online offering.”
Because offering credit card purchases on your site can significantly increase sales, consider your merchant status as part of your online marketing plan. The Internet Billing Company acts as an intermediary for online sales.
3. Place Channels that direct traffic to your product (your site) are like additional storefronts all over the Web. Affiliate programs, in which you offer a cut of sales to agents or other sites that sell your products for you, are gaining recognition. The proof of their popularity is evidenced by a new industry conference, Affiliate Solutions ’99.
In an article on affiliate programs, Michelle Ellis, Director of Account Planning and Media at M2K, writes that “affiliate programs are the most cost-effective online marketing programs, but an affiliate program will succeed only with constant care and attention.” http://www.emarketer.com/
One innovative affiliate approach is Exchange, dubbed ‘commerce in content’ by putting a retailer’s products into existing content on the Web and handling the back office transaction process. “This e-commerce strategy seemed to make the most sense,” says John Mori, VP Marketing and Merchandising for Mori Luggage & Gift Stores. “We’ve learned that, in the physical retail world, having multiple stores is better than having one. The same applies to the Internet. Exchange is augmenting our Internet strategy by creating Mori Luggage & Gifts stores on thousands of websites.”
The final step to draw visitors to your site are the tools of online promotions. Rather than counting on these to carry your entire marketing program (as many businesses do) consider them the icing on the cake. Contests, special events, discounts, free offers, email newsletters and banner exchanges are tactics, and there are many low-cost options out there. Among them:
- MSN LinkExchange puts your banner on other members’ sites for space on yours. They offer AdStore as a way to let members buy affordable ads on major sites such as the portal, Yahoo!.
- WebPromote’s Engage is a free service that lets you publish and distribute your own free list. Email newsletters are one of the most cost-effective online tools available. Idea Station (owned by the author of this article) provides editorial services for small businesses to help create content to send out in your email newsletter.
- SearchEngine Report: Rather than spending money on submission services, sign up for this program and learn how to do it yourself.
Shannon Kinnard writes the Browsing column for Entrepreneur’s Business Start-Ups magazine, which helps small businesses find online tools to help them achieve greater results. Her company, Idea Station, writes custom articles that small businesses publish in their email newsletters as a way to build relationships with prospects and position their industry expertise. More information is available at http://www.ideastation.com.