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Online marketing, affordably increasing sales

Online marketing can be less expensive and more effective and accountable than traditional marketing methods. Rebecca Spicer explores the benefits for SMEs, and the myriad options for getting the best results from your online marketing campaigns.

Perhaps the most telling comment that came from research for this article was, “No-one can afford to brochure drop all of Australia”. Glenn Nicholas, co-director of online marketing agency PublicityShip, couldn’t have summed it up better for Australian SMEs who are not part of a big chain.

But the internet has opened the way for SMEs to broaden marketing strategies, with new tools appearing every other day. They can now market on a more level playing field with big business, especially when looking to expand nationally, even globally.

Importantly, e-marketing isn’t just for those with an e-commerce-enabled (or transactional) website. At the simplest level, online marketing might only involve setting up an information-based website to provide potential stakeholders with instantaneous access to a ‘brochure’ about your business.

Often when you first hear about a product or service you’re interested in, you head to the business’ website. Chances are people are doing this when it comes to your business, too.

On a deeper level, getting people to find out more about your business doesn’t have to be by chance. The internet now provides a range of tools to get your business in front of new and potential customers on a regular basis. “In the current market, online marketing is about realising new opportunities and taking advantage of them,” says Nicholas.

In terms of straight online advertising, display advertising is one method, whereby businesses find partner or affiliate websites and place an advertisement on them, called banner ads. Essentially you’re buying space on their website to draw attention to your business.

The advantage of display ads over, say, a newspaper advertisement is their measurability. Click-through results are readily available in real time, to gauge the success of a campaign.

Display ads tend to be a part of your short-term marketing strategy, and the costs will vary depending on the site you’re advertising on. And unless you’re experienced in web design, you’ll most likely need to engage an advertising agency to design the ad for you.

If your goal is to get more people to visit your website, then a good starting point is through keyword analysis, says Nicholas. That is, analysing what keywords your customers would be using to search for your business online. “Your customers give you a big clue about what they’re interested in by what they’re searching for online,” he explains.

He uses the example of a business in the real estate market: “If you’re looking to take your services out to a national market, you can probably position yourself as a property expert, or a real estate expert, and you’d ask, what would be the difference? If you look at it instinctively, you might make your choice based on your own perception of what people are after and what that means. But if you did keyword analysis and realised that for the top 40 searches that people are actually doing on the internet, ‘real estate’ gets used 14 times more than ‘property’. Now, what difference would that make to your publicity campaign, your marketing, and your whole positioning?”

While there are tools businesses can use to do this themselves, using the expertise of a search engine optimisation (SEO) specialist can be beneficial, adds Nicholas. SEO is all about optimising your website, so when potential customers input keywords relevant to your business into a search engine (such as Google), your website will rank highly in the search results for those keywords. And note, these are the organic listings, not those paid listings that appear at the very top or down the right hand side of the screen, which we’ll address later.

According to Michael Rom, director of web design and SEO specialists Net Starter, your website developer or designer can do a few things to help the cause, but there are two main things the end user can do: get a lot of quality content on your site, and get a lot of quality inbound links. A good starting point when looking for other sites to link with is industry associations, suppliers, trade contacts, and exhibition directories.

“You want to get as many links to your website as possible because Google and other search engines are popularity engines and every link you have linking to you is considered a vote, and the more votes you have, the more popular you are and the higher you’ll rank in Google,” Rom says.

However, those links have different weights and values, so he stresses the importance of “quality” links. Google, for example, gives every page on the web a ranking out of 10, and this will determine not only the quality of your own site but the quality of the link coming into your website.

For an idea on the value of links, Rom says Net Starter’s website has a ranking of seven-out-of-10, and one link from their website is equivalent to about 100,000 one-out-of-10 links, so quality is key. Downloading the free Google Toolbar program at toolbar.google.com and activating the ‘page rank’ tool, will help you establish the actual ranking of pages on the web.

In terms of getting quality content onto your site, Rom recommends having an information centre on your website, and within this having a minimum of 50 pages of content, such as feature articles, help and advice, or guidance on topics to do with your area of expertise.

Paul and Jenny Geelen are a brother and sister team running a business in WA making artificial eyes, and since using this strategy, with the help of PublicityShip, have seen significant results through online marketing. Their new website features true stories about how people have dealt with eye loss, as well as advice on how to maintain an artificial eye, which has significantly boosted their ranking in the search engines.

“A lot of websites will tell you what the business wants people to know, but you’ve got to provide information that people looking on your website want,” explains Paul Geelen. “By giving people something they really need, and in our case it’s providing support for people who have suffered eye loss, it creates a more interesting website, and that will get more attention.

“Our business came from a point where we didn’t market at all (except through word-of-mouth and in the Yellow Pages). Since we’ve started online marketing, it’s been incredible. Our turnover has increased by 80 percent in the last year, and as a direct consequence of the web page I expect we’ll double our turnover.”

The way content is written is vital, adds Rom. “You can’t just have the one word repeated over and over again, you have to word that content so the major keywords for that page are written a few times per paragraph. I would also veer away from writing about the business, it should be helpful articles for people. I’d probably recommend getting that content copyrighted as well.”

Using keywords in your heading tags is also important, as is the actual title and address (URL) of each web page on your site.

Key Online Marketing Areas

Nicholas sums online marketing into four key areas: affiliate, content, email, and search marketing. “Affiliates are a major channel that a lot of businesses are using in their go-to-market online,” he explains. By aligning with affiliates who have the skills and resources to tap into new markets (particularly overseas), businesses can sometimes be better off paying them a commission to sell and market a product, than for the business to launch a complete online marketing strategy internally. “Often affiliates are in a better position to do that marketing at a lower cost than you can, because they’re specialists in a particular market,” adds Nicholas. But warns that you’ll need to choose your affiliates carefully.

“Content marketing is a way of using your content to draw attention to yourself, establish credibility and expertise and have people come to you,” he says, which is akin to Rom’s recommendation for getting quality content on your website.

Online publicity is an example of content marketing, but what you can do differently with an online publicity campaign than with a traditional media campaign is, rather than relying on a magazine editor to publish your press release you can issue an online press release and expect to be talking directly to your customers. “For example, by sending consumers a press release via email, I can talk directly to them, attract their attention and bring them to a landing page and establish a conversation with them. It might not convert them immediately, but you might be able to start a conversation, which is where email marketing becomes very powerful,” says Nicholas.

Content marketing can also involve adopting an online ‘publishing’ strategy involving social media environments. Blogging is a good example, and is something Geelen has found particularly beneficial for his business. “Blogging gives people an understanding of who we are because the blogs are our words and we’re talking about issues we’re dealing with. It enables people to get a feel for our personalities before they come in,” he explains. “We can see the blogs are being read as we can track that through analytics. So really, it’s bringing more attention to the website and it’s making it more dynamic, and we’re just providing more information.”

“Your strategy in this instance is you’re building presence for yourself online, not just trumpeting out a press release,” explains Nicholas.

Sending a direct marketing message via email can be quick and effective, but only if done correctly. Deciding who to send the message to is crucial, and while Nicholas says you can buy both Australian and international distribution lists, it’s much more effective to take a “rifle shot” approach and target your message to people who will actually be interested in your product or service.

Paula O’Connell, CEO of email marketing company Returnity, agrees: “It’s all about targeting. The value in the message is the relevancy, so you must target the individual with the relevant content.” Having a good customer relationship management system will help make this task a lot easier for you.
Email marketing shouldn’t be used as a standalone, stresses O’Connell, but the channel does have some advantages. “Email is far more accountable because you can actually do much more sophisticated tracking in email marketing, and obviously it’s quicker, so it’s much easier for you to test what’s working online.

“In traditional direct mail, it costs a lot to get a mail pack in the post, then test, get your results back, and then roll out another campaign. In email, it’s much more cost-effective and more time-efficient. And we recommend you test every component you possibly can.”

While email marketing is something businesses can do themselves, O’Connell says an email marketing service provider will have expertise on content, spam, and deliverability. A service provider will also have the technology to track your email campaign and be able to regularly report on the number of opened emails, through to the click-through rate, giving businesses a much more measurable return on investment.

You also need to be aware of the Spam Act, which restricts businesses to only communicate with individuals via email who have given them permission to do so, but there are some things businesses can do to boost the numbers on their distribution list without breaking the law. “Fun, interesting viral campaigns are probably the top tip,” advises O’Connell. “So to grow your database, and again it’s another reason why you’d outsource, you’d put functionality in the email, so they can recommend it to a friend in a spam-compliant environment.”

Search Engine Marketing

Search marketing is a combination of organic search (involving SEO, which we’ve already touched on) and paid search. Paid search, or search engine marketing (SEM), involves a business paying for text-based ads that appear in search results, and these will either be found at the top or to the side of the organic search results.

These ads operate on a pay-per-click basis and often involve you having to bid on the value of keywords that will bring up your ad in search results. “Search is the biggest category of online advertising in Australia,” explains Craig Wax, Australia–New Zealand managing director for Yahoo Search Marketing. “The reason for this, I believe, is it goes back to how people are finding businesses today. They’re going to the internet and they’re using search to find what they’re looking for.

“The reason why search works so well, particularly for small businesses, is the business doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to go out and find the person that might be interested in what they have to offer. The person is declaring their interest by what they type into a search bar, so that’s why it’s such an efficient way to market your business.”

That, combined with the fact you only have to pay when somebody clicks and goes to your website, means there’s very little, if any, wastage compared to other forms of advertising, adds Wax. “With search you’re only paying for the person who is actually reading your direct mail piece, and not only reads it but has raised their hand and said, ‘can you give me that, I’m interested, I want to read it’.”

Content marketing and search marketing go hand-in-hand, explains Nicholas. “That’s because your search marketing efforts are going to drive traffic to your killer content, which is building trust for you. And often online that’s one of the hardest things to do—you can get traffic and get attention, but how do you convert people to a sale?”

Wax says SEM doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to test, and the ability to have a campaign up and running quickly is an advantage. “You ultimately control how much you’re going to pay per customer lead, so you can work your spend to where you know you’re going to turn a profit.”

Overall, a big decision is whether to launch an online marketing campaign internally, or get the experts in to help. While there are certainly things you can do which can help improve the effectiveness of any online campaign, when it comes to the more technical aspects you’re probably better off outsourcing the job.

“The key thing is delivering the right information at the right time,” says Nicholas, and often a service provider will be able to do that for you in a more timely and cost-effective way. The other thing is, given there are so many options in the online marketing arena, Nicholas says it’s often not a matter of, ‘what is my strategy?’, but ‘what is the best strategy?’. “So if you can find someone to help you come up with the best strategy and help plan what to do, that’s one the of the hardest things to get right. That’s when you can DIY if you need to.”

It’s important, however, when choosing a service provider that you use one that’s suited to your business and goals. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and success rates for other campaigns they’ve done that are similar to yours.

The general consensus among our experts is that while all these online marketing channels can be used individually, they’re likely to achieve better results when used together in an all-encompassing online marketing strategy, which should also integrate with your offline marketing.

Seeking to promote your business? Create your free Australian business listing with Dynamic Search business directory – Sister site of Dynamic Business.

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Rebecca Spicer

Rebecca Spicer

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