Dear Dan:The current "slowdown" (ummmm, crash?) seems like a good time to focus a little more on our Internet marketing. Of course, we don't have any cash. What are some things we can do without spending much, if any, money? - Willing but Cashless
Dear Willing: One of the best things about marketing online is easy access to business building tools that cost little or nothing to use. Even when budgets tighten, these readily-available tactics can have a real impact on your bottom line. Jay Berkowitz, an Internet marketing pro and founder of the Ten Golden Rules of Internet Marketing, suggests these steps you can take to build business online with free or low-cost tools and tactics:
1. Draw traffic to your website with free SEO tactics. Sure, SEO is almost a cliché these days. But getting it right is critical. Search engine optimization (SEO) helps people find your website when they search online. To score high in search results, you need two things: the right words (or "keywords") on your site, plus other sites that link to you, which Google considers a sign you are important. Berkowitz suggests you regularly write articles about your industry for your website. Use words and phrases that customers and prospects would likely search for.
Wordtracker.com is a great way to find the most popular search terms that people use, no matter what business you are in. A 7-day trial is free. Using those same terms (some of them may surprise you) on your website will help "optimize" it for the search engines. The Wordtracker site also has helpful articles and a free newsletter on using keywords to build business.
To generate links, ask business associates, suppliers and others to link to your website. Also request links from your industry associations or local chamber of commerce.
2. Eye the competition with competitive intelligence tools. Web-based services such as Spyfu.com and Compete.com offer free tools that can show you where your competitors are advertising on the Internet and how much they are spending. Spyfu lets you see which keywords your competitors are buying and which ones they are using most on their websites. You can even download their keywords and adwords. Many Spyfu tools are free.
3. Track your lead acquisition costs. What happens after people click something on your site? By using a free tool from Google called Google Analytics, you can determine where visitors to your website are coming from, how many requested your brochure, newsletter or other free offer, and how many made a purchase. Once you know how many leads you generated from, say, a banner campaign on your local newspaper site compared to pay-per-click ads on Google or elsewhere, you'll know where to invest in the future.
4. Pack a free web-based PR punch: Sites that help you write and distribute press releases for little or no cost are a great way to get noticed. Free options include PR.com and Clickpress.com. Low-cost solutions such as PRweb.com and MyPRgenie.com offer a good chance your release will be found by major search engines.
5. Raise your "social media" profile: More and more entrepreneurs are discovering the business-building power of social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. A presence on LinkedIn puts you into the pre-eminent business networking site on the Internet. And Facebook isn't just for teens and college kids. It's also a fast growing platform where business owners communicate with customers and prospects. You can even create a "fan page" for your business on Facebook, which is a great way to facilitate web-based word-of-mouth about your products and services.
These Business.com how-to guides on Creating a Facebook Fan Page forYour Business can help.
6. Create a virtual sales force with affiliate marketing. Affiliates are marketers who will send traffic to your website in exchange for a small fee for a lead or percentage of the sale. Affiliate networks include Commission Junction (CJ.com), Linkshare.com and ShareaSale.com. Berkowitz recommends that you first calculate how much it costs you to get a sale on your own, and offer the affiliates slightly less.
7. Tap free site-tuning tools. Google Website Optimizer is a helpful and free tool that can improve conversions on your website. Website Optimizer helps you test different offers, prices and designs to determine which are the most effective. Click on Business Solutions at the bottom of the Google home page.