Traditional marketing efforts have demanded high expenses and time requirements – two large barriers to entry for small businesses with limited budgets. But consumers are becoming less convinced by these traditional marketing techniques. Television commercials that would have worked well 15 years ago just aren’t having the same effect today. Why not? With the advancement of the Internet’s Web 2.0 social features, consumers are more wary of company’s messages, instead turning to the online community to shape their opinions on a specific company, product or service.
This is great news for small businesses! They can now harness this online community by creating a network to influence and learn from. The Internet also allows businesses to target specific groups of people easily and cost-effectively through a number of different channels. Here are my picks of the five best ways that small businesses can reach their target market online.
1. Social Media
This is the backbone of Web 2.0 and the key to building your company’s online community. While it may seem like a lot of work to manage several different social media platforms, there are solutions to consolidate the task. As I have touched on before (link to Social Media Tools blog post), you can use TweetDeck to manage all your social media networks at once. Make sure to sign up for the big three: Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Twitter is great for quick updates on your products/services, as well as news and events, while linking back to your site to drive traffic. Creating a Facebook Page for your company allows other Facebook users to “Like” you and receive all your updates right in their news feed. This will integrate your company’s updates into their social lives. Finally, LinkedIn acts as a great networking tool for leaders in your industry to connect and share ideas. Join LinkedIn Groups to stay updated on all the latest news relating to your industry and create valuable relationships with influential people.
The key to using social media effectively is to be consistent, reachable, and interesting. This is not a traditional marketing channel so do not treat it as a one-way sales pitches to your audience. Instead, build trust and expand networks through sharing and discussing relevant and engaging content. The results can be astonishing. If you have a website, make sure you promote your social media channels to drive up your subscriber/follower counts.
2. Google AdWords
Well over half of all searches are performed through Google. Google is such a juggernaut in the world of search that “search” and “Google” are synonymous. You can benefit from this dominance by leveraging Google’s search advertising system called Google AdWords. When searchers type in keywords in Google that relate to your company’s product/service, your advertisement will appear at the top of the search results with a link to a webpage of your choice. You can choose how much you want to spend every time someone clicks on your ad and bid with other advertisers for the best position on search results.
Overwhelmed by this new way of constructing ads? Google provides some awesome tools to help you out. Google Keyword Tool will help you choose the right keywords to ensure that you are reaching the optimal audience. You can then use Google’s Traffic Estimator to predict how successful a particular advertisement will be or Google Trends to estimate the future popularity of keywords. Another great tool is Google AdWords Editor, which will assist you with ad modification, so that you can continually improve on your results and use negative keywords to narrow down your audience and eliminate unwanted traffic. It may take a few versions of an ad to get the results you want, but Google AdWords can definitely deliver an impressive return on investment.
If you own a website and are trying to drive traffic, a blog is a great way to attract visitors. Be sure to gear your writing towards your target market and promote each blog post through all of your social media platforms to drive traffic to your website. A blog can serve as a trust builder or hint at your company’s offerings. As your blog builds popularity, it can even be syndicated on industry news sites to increase its exposure and improve your website’s reputation.
Don’t have a website or not ready to add a blog? Become a guest writer on a related site. Many sites with blogs are happy to support other writers and will include your contact information or links to your social media platforms in return for your article.
There are both paid and free directories available to display your company’s contact information. While this is a great way to build links to your site and increase your online exposure, be wary of using any online directory you come across. Some directories are content farms that will actually have a negative effect against your website and its reputation. Google uses PageRank to display a website’s quality, which you can view by installing the Google Toolbar. Use this to help determine if a directory is worth using; a link to your page from a 5/10 PageRank site is worth thousands of links from 1/10 PageRank sites.
In Canada, some great paid directories include Yellow Pages, Goldbook, Canpages and 411.ca. Also, be sure to add your company to Google Places for free. If you want an all-in-one solution, check out UniversalBusinessListing, which is a paid service that submits your company to thousands of directories. There are a growing number of both paid and free directories available for your business. Be sure to assess the value their PageRank and continually evaluate the performance of your paid directories to ensure that they are driving traffic to your website.
5. Viral Videos
Viral videos are the Trojan horse of online marketing. They appear to viewers as an engaging piece of media that they want to share with their friends and colleagues. However, there is a message or teaser about the company’s offerings within the video. In order for a viral video to be successful, it needs to be special. Whether that is through invoking laughter, inspiration, or amazement; it is up to the creator. The video does not need to be televised. In fact, videos that are hosted on free hosting services like YouTube are easier to share and will exhibit greater dispersion among your target audience.
Blendtec is a premium blender company, who has leveraged their viral videos to skyrocket their reputation and exposure. Their “Will It Blend?” viral video series features the creator taking popular consumer products and pitting them against the Blendtec blender. In addition to being humorous, “Will It Blend?” also hits current high profile topics, such as the iPhone right after its release and the Vuvuzela horn during last year’s FIFA tournament in Africa. This has allowed it to stay relevant, while being generally the same every video.
If you would like more information or assistance on these, or additional online marketing opportunities, please feel free to contact us.