Dynamic Business Logo
Home Button
Bookmark Button

Building a business website is only the first step to establishing a presence online. Angus Kidman cuts through the jargon and hype to find the most effective methods for marketing a business online.

Building a business website might seem challenging enough, but creating the site is often the simplest task. "The old Field of Dreams idea—if you build it, they will come— doesn't exist," says David Gold, managing director for online marketing and advertising agency OneDigital. "Unless you can be found it doesn't matter how well your message is put forward."

Active Image

You certainly should promote your business site through other mediums, ensuring that your site address is included on letterheads, shopfronts, and in print advertising, for example. To really develop an audience, however, you'll need to use effective marketing techniques specifically for the online medium.

Online auction site OZtion has experimented with numerous online marketing tactics since it was founded in January 2005. The business operates in a highly competitive sector dominated by eBay, a massive global player, so effective marketing tactics are essential to business growth and survival, according to managing director, Philip Druce.

"Initially, we had a small budget and we concentrated on getting people to learn about the site," Druce says. Sites for advertising were chosen based on simple demographics and traffic levels. "After six months, we thought it had got to the point where people were happy, so we started to do some email advertising via other companies’ emails. That really started to bring the members on.

"Then we started our referral program, which we built in-house. That really worked well. About 50 percent of our members say they've been referred by someone they know." OZtion now has 130,000 members and attracts more than 1.3 million visitors a month.


Email marketing has been a major source of activity for the company, but Druce says this involves considerable trial-and-error. "It depends on the actual call to action. If we included a promotion or a bargain, people were much more likely to click through. Just saying 'we're a new company' isn't enough. We have to keep doing things to bring them back to the site. It's important to keep in contact with your existing customers and ask for suggestions."

Knowing your audience is important. "We've experimented with traditional advertising as well on radio and TV, but we found that because our target market's online we can get a much better return online," Druce says. "We also found that if we target a 25 to 45-year-old demographic we get a much better result than with 18 to 25- year-olds."

OZtion's experience demonstrates the potential value of using an email marketing system, but this requires careful planning at every stage. Standard desktop email clients can't handle sending out messages to thousands of people, and attempting to do so may result in your company being blacklisted by spam blocking software. A better option is to either install specific mailing software or hire a third party to send out marketing emails.

Even when you have convinced customers to sign up for an email newsletter, careful planning is required. Evan Fortune, executive director of email marketing company Vision 6, points out that quite different design strategies are needed for different customers. Business-to-business customers need a call to action visible at the very beginning of the email, while consumers are more willing to read through content.

Timing is critical. While the majority of marketing messages are sent on a Thursday, fewer messages sent on that day are opened than at any other time, he says. Sending messages on a weekend increases the chance of a response.

Even with careful planning, businesses remain at the mercy of spam filters and other email protection systems. "About 20 percent of legitimate emails are blocked by spam filters," Fortune says.

Search Engine Optimisation

Banner advertising—paying to place graphic advertisements on popular sites—remains a popular strategy for businesses. However, the biggest area in development for online marketing has centred around search engines.

For many internet users, search engines such as Google and Yahoo! remain a key navigation tool, so becoming visible on those sites is critical. Most search engine marketing falls into two broad categories: search engine optimisation (SEO), which involves ensuring your site is easily located by search engines, and keyword advertising, where businesses purchase advertisements that appear when users search for specific keywords, and pay a fee if a user clicks on that advertisement.

"Initially we did all our SEO in-house," OZtion's Druce says. "We looked at the basic techniques: every page would have a relevant title, content, and description keywords that all matched. We read different articles and tried to optimise our pages. Eventually, we decided to use an external company to go through our site and fully optimise it." While that was a costly and slow process, the company has seen greatly improved traffic as a result.


Most keyword advertising services operate on a bid model. Any company can specify how much it is willing to pay (which could range from less than a cent to several dollars) for a small text ad to appear on a given search result. That fee is charged if the user clicks on the advertisement, providing a more straightforward measure of relevance than broader brand advertising tactics.

Providers offer online tools that outline the popularity of different search terms to help businesses select the best keywords. "It all starts with taking a good look at your business and understanding what prospective customers will be searching for, and developing a keyword strategy around it," says Craig Wax, managing director for Yahoo! Search Marketing.

"We're still doing pay-for-click advertising on the major search engines," Druce says. "When we started, we had a very low budget, we were spending $600 a month on the major search engines, and we've had to increase that consistently." OZtion now uses an external agency for this as well: "It got to a point where it was too hard to handle. Initially, it was done in-house and it was taking quite a lot of time to look at keywords and bids."

Experimentation is essential, though experts point out that this needn't be expensive. "One of the beauties of search marketing is, no contracts and complete flexibility. You can turn it on or off at a moment's notice," Wax says. Most services will allow you to set an upper monthly budget, ensuring that you don't get hit with an unexpected bill if a particular advertising campaign proves wildly popular.

Measurement is also fairly straightforward. "Cost-per-click is still a good measure," Wax says. "If you pay $1 per click, it's easy to see if you're making money.

"A common mistake is not putting a lot of thought into where you send the person who clicked in the first place," Wax says. "You have to make sure that the landing page is relevant to the search term you bid on, and there's a clear next step and call to action."

Another warning is not to bid too much money on individual keywords. Highly competitive terms (especially prevalent in areas such as travel and electronics) may attract bid rates so high that getting an effective ROI can be impossible.

If your business occupies a unique niche, however, selling via keywords can be very successful. "Keywords are still the best tactic for us," says Marc Lehmann, CEO of Australian online accounting software developer NETapplica. "Google is our number one salesperson."


Electronic Marketing

Active ImageWhile electronic marketing offers new opportunities, it isn't a world without boundaries. This year's introduction of the Do Not Call register, combined with existing protections, means that businesses must tread carefully in all communications with customers.

The Do Not Call register, which is scheduled to go into operation in May 2007, allows consumers to opt out of receiving all telemarketing calls. Businesses will be responsible for ensuring they don't place calls to individuals listed in the register, unless they already have a business relationship with that customer. Codes of practice for this were still in development at the time of writing.

Businesses also need to be mindful of the Spam Act, which has been in place since April 2004 and carries potential penalties of up to $1.1 million for violations. Under the act, it is an offence for an Australian business to send unsolicited email. Again, businesses may send messages with customers who have explicitly signed up for electronic communications, or with whom they have an established business relationship.

What do you think?

    Be the first to comment

Add a new comment

Guest Author

Guest Author

Dynamic Business has a range of highly skilled and expert guest contributors, from a wide range of businesses and industries.

View all posts