Thursday, November 15, 2007

Marketing Your Business: is it time for you to go on-line?

This article was written by Ben McCulloch, SCORE Orange County Vice Chairman

Measured by what’s being spent, it seems like everyone is doing it. Spending on on-line advertising has surged 60% to nearly $10 billion, while ‘off-line’ advertising is decreasing (according to Fortune Small Business, July 1, 2007). If you don’t already have a ‘web presence’, should you? And, if you do, is what you’re spending resulting in higher sales?

The lure – the web’s potential reach and impact – seems clear: the e-marketplace is as much local as it is worldwide, and it’s ‘always on’. As with any marketing activity, your e-marketing goal is to satisfy a customer’s need. Though this medium may be different, your first challenge is their awareness that you exist.

Can you even be found?

Awareness begins with presence which, of course, requires a website. But, the customer must be able to discover you without specifically looking for you. Using ‘off-line’ marketing tools, such as the yellow pages, the customer looks within given categories. You must choose which categories to be listed.

While fixed ‘yellow pages’ types of listings can be found on the web, most customers search using a web browser and a few key words. Instead of a fixed list, each customer defines the ‘category’ that makes the most sense to them; your challenge greatly increases: you must anticipate – and match – how your customers will describe their need. Clearly, your choice of the keywords that describe your website is of huge importance. A ‘match’ – even a partial one – between the customer’s keywords and yours means you can be found.

But, will you be noticed?

A web search of ‘web marketing’ using the popular search engine, Google, returns 402 million websites matching these keyword criteria; at ten results displayed per page, that’s a lot of pages to view. Studies show that web searchers, on average, do not look beyond the third page of results. If so, to be noticed, you need to be among the first 30 results. Page ‘ranking’ is a process totally controlled by the search engine, in this case, Google.

How search engines rank individual web sites is a well-guarded secret. However, it is widely believed that, among the possible ranking factors, the frequency that a web site is mentioned or linked-to by another web site is the most influential. The search engines determine these frequencies through continuous assessment of the entire web; as your site is increasingly mentioned or linked-to, your rank should rise. So, to stand out from among others whose keywords also match the customer’s, a high ‘page rank’ is crucial.

Will they look? More importantly, will they stay?

You’ve made the cut. Now you must convert a web searcher into a visitor by compelling the potential customer to click on your web site. Your original choice of web domain name plays a factor; obscure names may confuse the prospect and cause them to proceed to a site that is more recognizable.

The average visitor stays at a web site for just a few seconds before clicking the ‘back’ button. Getting visitors to stay at your web site longer involves your product and message, and how they are presented on your site. Once they have landed on your page, web site design – appearance and navigability – becomes a critical factor in keeping visitors aboard, and potentially converting them into customers.

A new set of tools to conquer a new marketplace

E-marketing involves new technologies, new unknowns, and new decisions to be made. Fortunately, strategies and tools have evolved to guide a credible web presence and monitor its effectiveness. Included are terms you may have already heard or seen: ‘natural (or organic) keyword search’, ‘paid keyword search’, ‘search engine optimization’, ‘pay-per-click’, and ‘web analytics’, for example.

If it is time for you to go on-line, or just to learn more about the strategies and tools that you can use, arrange a session with a SCORE counselor or attend one of our ‘Internet Marketing’ workshops. We hope to see you there, and to visit your site sometime soon.