Overview of Online Marketing
Online marketing is a broad subject, but it's beneficial to have an overview of the range of online marketing techniques before choosing those that make the most sense for your business. This guide will provide you with concise descriptions of the major online marketing techniques, along with enough information to evaluate the offers of different Internet marketing providers.
One of the simplest ways to get started in online marketing is to buy a domain name, contract with a hosting company, and build a website. A website is a launching pad for a business-a place where you can store your content and direct customers to it through links. Your website could be as simple as a single page-and many websites are just that-one long sales letter or brochure. Most small business can start with just a handful of Web pages and build content from there. …More
Domain names cost less than $10 per year and have to be renewed or they'll expire. You can purchase domain names for many years at a time or set up an automatic payment plan to ensure that your registration never runs out. Many companies buy dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of domain names, including variations on their own business names, as well as terms they hope to pull traffic from. Reclaiming domain names that have expired can be expensive and difficult, if not impossible. Many website hosts offer excellent tools for managing large numbers of domains.
After you have a domain, the next major decision is finding a website host. Your website will be stored on the host's server, where it should be running reliably more than 99% of the time. Your hosting fees are largely based on the amount of storage you need and the amount of bandwidth your site uses. Hosting fees start as low as a few dollars per month, but most businesses pay more in the neighborhood of $20 to $40 each month for a decent storage and bandwidth package. Popular sites that use a lot of bandwidth-hogging multimedia have to pay a much higher monthly fee. «Less
Your website host should have simple tools and templates that allow you to build your own website. Unless you know what you're doing, it's difficult to go much beyond a primitive brochure-ware site with minimal functionality. You might need the help of a design firm to create a Website that looks appealing, contains the content you want, and has the functionality your customers require. …More
Website design firms usually charge by the number of pages or templates they need to create. Don't expect very much for less than $2,500. On the high end, the sky is the limit, as some companies spend millions of dollars on website development since they earn millions of dollars from their sites.
But just posting content to a website doesn't mean anyone will see it. Within hours of adding new content, your site will show up in search engines such as Google and Bing. But it won't attract many viewers until you do something to promote the site. As such, the remainder of this guide considers a variety of methods for driving traffic to your site-and converting that traffic into customers.
Search marketing refers mostly to pay-per-click (PPC) advertisements that appear alongside search results. Google pioneered search marketing, and then exported it to sites other than search engines. Now, anytime you search for anything on any major site, chances are that your search results will contain ads, most of which will be placed there by Google. In this way, Google's reach is far greater, even, than the users of its popular search engine-extending to all the other websites that display ads generated through Google Adwords.
Google isn't the only provider in the search advertising game. Microsoft (Bing) and AOL also have extensive online advertising networks. Beyond the giants, there are thousands of niche search advertising opportunities on popular websites that can be strung together into an ad hoc network.
Google's AdWords program provides an auction market where bidders buy the right to have their ads appear next to search results for target phrases. Ads are priced based on how many people click on them, not on how many times they're shown. Advertisers can bid anywhere from one cent per click to many dollars per click.
Google manages AdWords to maximize revenue, so even though you bid more for a phrase than someone else, Google will discount your bid if your ads aren't generating clicks. That is, Google will move a lower bidder with a better click-through rate ahead of you. This forces advertisers to write ads that generate action, not just awareness.
Search advertising networks often feature an impressive array of free tools that advertisers can use to target their messages more effectively. These include keyword research tools that reveal phrases you might not have considered and show how popular they are among people searching, and how valuable they are among advertisers. There are many sweet spots that get high traffic yet have low competition among advertisers, and thus more attractive rates.
Search advertising has become extremely scientific, with the ability to manage large, intricate campaigns, testing a variety of messages for effectiveness, and then quickly rolling them out to ever-larger search networks. The metrics for tracking campaigns are incredible, including ratio of exposures to click-throughs, conversion of click-throughs to prospects, and impressive demographic details about the location and preferences of those clicking through.
There are many new developments in search marketing. One is local search, based on marketing to people in specific geographical areas (such as a certain driving distance from a particular location), and search marketing on maps. Another is shopping search, or business search, where people are specifically looking for vendors and/or product information and pricing. More and more marketers are using image search and video search to target product images and video ads to searchers looking for visual content.
Email is one of the most basic methods of online marketing. The advantages of email marketing are low cost (no per-message fees like direct mail or fax, no printing charges, no extra charges for images or color); immediate delivery; ease of bulk-mailing; the ability to embed hyperlinks in messages; as well as the ability to respond immediately to a call to action.
There are some disadvantages to email marketing, though. First, the CAN-SPAM Act requires that receivers opt-in to receive commercial email. Companies that use direct mail can be fined if they fail to follow the rules in the CAN-SPAM Act. The fines can be quite steep (up to $500 per individual message), and enforcement by those receiving spam can be immediate.
In addition to laws governing email marketing, there are also Internet standards-or netiquette-to consider. Email marketers can find themselves blacklisted-unable to send or receive email-without any notice or judicial hearing. Many legitimate marketers have been blacklisted by Internet vigilantes operating outside of the law. Even if your messages conform to law and don't upset the vigilantes, there's the risk that readers will find them annoying or boring and filter future messages into their spam folders.
Email marketing is usually facilitated by firms that specialize in mailing list management, email message creation, message delivery, and tracking. Firms such as ConstantContact, Emma, MailChimp, and AWebber, among many others, have earned good reputations for facilitating email communications with subscribers.
You need three things for a successful email marketing campaign: a mailing list, a message, and a machine for sending the message to the list.
- The list. You can use your own list or pay to have your message sent through another firm's opt-in list. You grow your own list through those who visit your website and provide their email addresses while buying something, requesting more information, or signing up for your newsletter. You can also grow your list through advertising, outreach at trade shows, contests, and other promotions.
- The message. You can write and design your own messages, or work with an email provider to create compelling email copy. Most email systems allow you to test messages for effectiveness and roll out messages that pull best. Messages can be anywhere from plain-text emails to graphic masterpieces loaded with images and links.
- The machine. If you have an account with an Internet provider, you probably have an email account that can be used for marketing. You can also send messages through free email services such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, and MSN. These services usually limit you to no more than a few hundred message recipients per day. For managing mailing lists with more than a few hundred contacts, you're better off paying a fee of $10 to $100 per month for Web-based services that allow you to manage lists up to 10,000 contacts. For lists with more than 10,000 contacts, you might prefer to run your own mail-server software without any limits on the number of message recipients or messages per day.
The rise of Facebook marked the beginning of social marketing-or at least the point where it became important for businesses to understand this phenomenon. Using the phrase "Web 2.0" as their mantra, new kinds of websites sprang up that were built on crowdsourcing search results-that is, what your family, friends, and colleagues say about which products and services work best is more important than what a marketer tells you.
For businesses, it quickly became important to have a presence inside these sometimes closed and insular networks. For example, content on Facebook is not indexed by Google. There's no way, generally speaking, to find out what's happening on Facebook without logging on to Facebook. So companies began setting up profiles for their businesses, brands, and employees inside the top social networks.
Also, companies started "listening in" on the conversations people were having about their services. Businesses can read and respond to complaints and compliments on Twitter in real time. They can also find prospects who reveal what they like, what they want, what they need, and what they're searching for on these social networks. They can also post messages that promote their business, oftentimes just by being helpful to other members in the network.
These social networking accounts can grow to enormous numbers. It's not unusual for celebrities or even popular brands to have more than a million followers or friends. The ability to send tailored messages to these followers is so compelling that in 2012, Facebook began charging companies to communicate with their own followers.
Many companies have stumbled in social marketing by pushing too hard, violating terms of service, or annoying potential followers. They talk when they should be listening, and they market when they should be helping. Because social marketing is all about building a positive reputation online, it's something that should be approached carefully to avoid a very public misstep.
Social networking providers can help with these tasks in several ways. First, they can help you build or improve your social networking profiles-with better graphics, content, and tracking. Second, they can help you build a following. That involves posting intelligent messages-or status updates-and responding to others by thanking, following, and friending others; and commenting on their posts, etc. Good content plus good interaction leads to a growing base of followers.
The third way in which a social marketing provider can help you is by designing and managing advertising campaigns on social networks. That includes producing online events and/or designing online promotions.
Content marketing is a fairly new phrase that has gained popularity thanks to changes in how search engines and social networks operate. In early 2012, Google announced a change in the way it would rank sites in search-engine results. Called the Panda/Farmer Update, Google basically said it would no longer reward sites that lacked quality, original content. Many popular tricks that websites used to rank high for a term were suddenly banished. This included ploys such as buying links to make Google believe that a particular site is popular, or using content "scraped" from other sources to make Google think that a site is bigger than it really is.
However, Google wasn't the only one adjusting their algorithms to reward quality sites. Facebook, LinkedIn, Bing, Amazon, and most other sites with a large search volume cracked down on those trying to game the system. The result was a surge in interest in original, quality content-which Google said it would reward. And so the field of content marketing was born to serve up the kind of content that search engines and social networks desire.
Content marketing often begins with research, which is then used to fuel many different content streams. One stream is blogging. A blog (a Web log) is a categorical, chronological Web publishing system. Someone writes a post, publishes it on a blog, and the post is then syndicated to all who subscribe to the blog. Blogging uses a form of standardized architecture that makes summary data (metadata) about the content of a post readily available. It's easy for people to discover the title of the post, the author's name, the date published, the topics covered, and other basic data without having to read the post. That makes blog posts search-engine-friendly, which gives them a good opportunity to draw traffic from search engines.
Content marketing firms often generate content designed to be used on other people's blogs, websites, and social networks. This is sometimes called shareable content, or viral content. The content might comprise blog posts written for other people's blogs, or guest articles for other websites. The inbound links resulting from content on other people's sites is valued very highly by Google. Content marketing firms often create and syndicate news releases through online newswires or wire services as another way of generating visibility and inbound links. The process of placing content on other people's sites is often referred to as a link-building campaign. The idea is to quickly build up a "link profile" that Google rewards with a high search-engine rank.
When research is combined with graphic design, it leads to another popular content marketing tool: the infographic. It took a while for Internet connections to get fast enough to take the pain out of sharing images. But now, you see photos everywhere online-especially in social networking threads, on blogs, and even on image-only services such as Flickr and Pinterest. Marketers naturally want to pair their expertise with attractive graphics that make it fun and easy to learn about new topics. This love for good graphic presentations resulted in a growing industry of using images and infographics in online marketing.
There's no end to what content marketing can produce for the online audience. White papers, reports, surveys, games, software, apps, slide shows, webinars-if it can be converted into two dimensions, it can be shared online. And even three-dimensional objects can now be shared by syndicated files used in 3-D printers to create real-world objects!
Content marketing is truly an all-encompassing term. Let's take a look at some of the more entertaining and useful types of content being shared online these days: that is, multimedia.
Before the World Wide Web first appeared in 1994, the Internet was a text-only medium. Files could be sent back and forth over it, and text could be displayed, but there was no good way to display images. With the release of Mosaic, the first Web browser, the Internet came to life! Screens changed from black and white (or black and hideous green) to living color. Images could be displayed. And instead of using archaic strings of commands to do things online, you could point and click. Since that day, we can't seem to get enough images, music, movies, and games through our Internet connections.
Multimedia marketing is just one side of content marketing-the visual side. In addition to infographics, discussed above, all kinds of files that merge text, images, music, and video can be used to create powerful online marketing campaigns. One of the most common uses for multimedia marketing is creating display ads for search marketing and online advertising campaigns. The challenge is to make something that's clever enough to get attention and encourage click-throughs.
Another multimedia marketing product is an audio file, or audio podcast. Marketers use podcasts to give timely audio reports that people can listen to online, on their phones, or in their cars. These podcasts can be live events, or recorded and edited and made available on demand. They can draw subscribers, who then become marketing prospects, and they can be syndicated to high-traffic sites such as iTunes.
Using video for online marketing is a powerful and growing trend. Popular videos that "go viral" as they're shared through social networks can be incredible marketing tools. It's possible to attach one's brand to a video that's already popular, or to create your own videos and syndicate them yourself. Videos can be inexpensively produced using almost any smartphone or computer with a camera.
However, to create a quality video that's memorable and that has a realistic chance of going viral can be quite expensive. It might cost only a few hundred dollars to produce a decent video or slide show that can be syndicated online. On the high end, professional movie trailers can cost thousands of dollars per second to create. It's easy to see the extreme difference between low-end and high-end production values in video available on YouTube and other video portals.
Standalone videos are just one way of using video for online marketing. You can also use live video. Many business offer webinars: live or canned Web-based seminars that can be produced as audio or video conference calls, and often feature interaction with a live audience. Web chats can be huge celebrity affairs that are well promoted in advance, or impromptu "hangouts" with a small group of people on Google+ or Skype. Webinars, seminars, and other live events can usually be recorded and syndicated as a file after the event. «Less