Small businesses can’t afford to ignore the Internet. A website, social media, and other digital marketing functions are quickly becoming the backbone of business promotion, whether as a marketing tool or a platform for selling. Internet sales can also be overwhelming. One recent survey found that 76 percent of marketers think that marketing has changed more in just the past two years alone than in the past 50 years.
This reality can be daunting if you’re not already immersed in the worlds of search engine optimization, Google Ads, and digital content. But don’t be intimidated—here are six fundamentals of Internet sales for small businesses:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of helping Google users find your website when they type in certain words. There are ways that your web designer and programmer can maximize SEO based on the algorithms of search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
Does your site have great, useful content with relevant titles and organic use of keywords? Keywords are terms that potential customers would use to search for and find your site. For example, if you own a pet grooming salon in Albuquerque, your search terms are probably something like, “dog hair cuts Albuquerque” or “dog grooming New Mexico.” Google AdWords Keyword Planner and SEO Moz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool are great places to start.
Consider the user experience of your website. Is it easy to navigate? Do pages load quickly? And review the in- and out-bound links your site is using. Sites that link to high-ranking sites, and also those which are linked to from high-ranking sites, get love from search engines.
Social Media Presence
Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram are all critically important to driving traffic to your site, boosting SEO, and cultivating brand awareness and customer loyalty. Keep in mind that people spend hours every day on many of these social media platforms, but they’re also unlikely to routinely visit a brand’s website.
To start, pick one social media channel and build it up well. Successful social campaigns typically involve posts of at least several times weekly, as well as authentic engagement with followers, and being truly helpful and relevant to your audience. But not all your posts should be about your product. Talk about relevant news and entertainment, and be sure to feature happy customers using your product.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Companies with a more developed web presence should consider search engine marketing. This typically includes a mix of “pay-per-click” (PPC) strategies. Examples include Google AdWords and Bing Ads, which offer ad space on search engine results pages, generally in a prominent position. When your ad is displayed and clicked, you are charged per click. Another form of PPC is called “Display Ads”, which are image ads displayed by on websites through a display ad networks, including Google AdSense. These platforms allow you to set the keywords, sites on which to advertise, your budget, and other details about your program. There are many online tools and digital marketing professionals who can help you execute and optimize a campaign to maximize conversions and help acquire more customers.
Every website should have an opt-in, or a way to collect emails. The most effective business sites offer visitors a freebie—whether it is an online resource guide, audio or video seminar, or e-book. Create an asset that provides value to the visitor and positions the company as an expert and an authority. For example, if you have a landscape company, a powerful opt-in offering might be “5 Secrets for a Lush Green Yard.”
An email list is a powerful asset. Use it to send email newsletters regularly—weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly—with useful information for your followers, as well as updates and campaigns you want to promote. If your product is a digital product, your email list is the cornerstone of your sales funnel.
But be aware that this type of emailing is subject to regulation such as the CAN-SPAM Act, which establishes rules for commercial messages and gives your potential customers the right to stop receiving emails. You may want to consider consulting an attorney or marketing expert to make sure you’re in compliance with email regulations and opt-out requirements.
Data and Analytics
Unlike more traditional media like direct mail and radio advertising that take guesswork to evaluate their effectiveness, digital media is much easier to quantify. There are online tools like Google Analytics, Kiss Metrics, and Clicky to make it easy to collect this data—and for you to make informed marketing decisions based on the information. This information can be invaluable when it comes to growing your Internet presence—and your sales.
Find the Right Mix for Your Business
One of the most powerful truths of online marketing is that it’s easy and affordable to experiment. Registration is free for just about all of the more popular social media platforms, and there are plenty of great tools available to help you organize and analyze the information. With every piece of the marketing puzzle, you should focus on one part, invest time maximizing it, assess the results, make adjustments, and then try something new.
But remember—the marketplace, search engine algorithms, and consumer tastes are all changing rapidly, and once you find a marketing plan that works, it’s already time to explore your next model.