Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Web Marketing 101 for Small Businesses

By Sean Carton , October 15, 2007

Have you ever picked up a magazine about a hobby you knew absolutely nothing about but wished you did? You page through it, looking at the amazing stuff people are doing, drooling over the pictures, wishing you could do what they're writing about. But no matter how hard you try, you can't understand half the words on the page. You can read the steps it takes to make what's written about, but unless you've reached a basic level of proficiency with the material, it may as well by hieroglyphics.

For me, "Make" magazine is a great example of this. It's packed with really cool projects, but it assumes the reader has a heck of a lot of basic knowledge most of us aren't born with. Reading some of the projects posted to its blog always fills me with a sense of envy and confusion. They make it look so easy. But while the hardware hackers on the site might be stymied over exactly which microcontroller to use for their next robot project, I'm the kind of guy for whom soldering is a skill right up there with brain surgery. Cool stuff to be sure, but I'm not going to be able to do any of it anytime soon.

I thought about this recently after reading Fred Aun's article about how small businesses struggle to use the Web for marketing. Examining a recent Opus Research study, Aun reports that while most small businesses want to market on the Web, they have no idea how to start, how much it costs, or how to create a successful program. I got the feeling from reading this article that many small business owners that look at Web marketing feel like me reading "Make": it sounds like a great idea, but how the heck does one get started?

I'd like to help. Today I present Web 101 for small businesses:

  1. Decide why you need a site. If it's to drive sales, you need to look into various e-commerce options. Try checking out Amazon and Yahoo for easy ways to get started. If it's to drive leads, you need to provide an easy way to allow people to contact you through the Web and enough information on your site to get them to contact you in the first place. If it's for recruiting, you need to tell a good story about why people would want to work with you. If it's because the competition has a site, then that's a good motivator to get started.

  2. Figure out who you're trying to reach. If it's prospects, you need to provide information to help them along the buying decision process. Basic stuff like the prices of your products, where you're located, and what makes your stuff better is a good place to start. If you're trying to serve current customers, think about what kinds of questions they ask you (or your employees) on a regular basis. Collect those questions, answer them, and put them online. If you're trying to reach new employees, you need information on your site that sells them on why they should work for you.

  3. What kind of information does the site for your small business need to contain? If nothing else, put your address and phone number in a prominent place! I know this sounds incredibly basic, but you'd be amazed how many sites make it difficult for potential customers to find or contact them. While you're at it, try putting a map on your site, too: it won't do you any good if you can't get people through the door. Google now allows easy embedding of their maps into Web sites: go check out Google Maps to learn more.

  4. How much should you spend? This is the eternal question. The answer shouldn't be, "How much you got?" Break out your spreadsheet and work some ROI (define) calculations. What are your sales now? What kind of return are you getting from traditional advertising? If you're looking at online advertising to promote your business, a quick trip to Google AdWords or Yahoo Search Marketing will allow you to see how many clicks your ads might generate based on how much you can spend. From there, it's not tough to figure out how much additional revenue you could generate based on a conservative 1 percent CTR (define) on the ad and a conversion rate of 1 to 2 percent.

    For example, if you can get a $2.50 CPM (define) on the ads you want to buy and you can spend $3,000, you'll generate 1.2million impressions. At a 1 percent CTR, you'll generate 12,000 clicks. If 3 percent of those clicks convert to sales, you'll generate 360 sales. Is that enough to pay for your advertising? You need to figure that out based on per-sale profit. Work the numbers to figure out how much to spend.

  5. Build the site. Who will build the site? Can you do it yourself? Can you find a freelancer? Do you need a bigger Web firm or your ad agency (if you have one)? The answer really depends on your budget, your skills, and the time you have to devote to the project. Remember, though: when it comes to design, you really do get what you pay for. Don't cheap out unless you want to make a bad impression and drive people away.

  6. Promote it. How will you promote the site? This is a toughie because there are a lot of options out there. "" has some excellent links to resources for small businesses. You'll also want to look at this article for some links to free services that help you figure out what keywords you'll want to use to promote your business via search engines. And no matter what you do online, consider direct mail to your current customers (a postcard is a good place to start) to get them to visit your new site and begin generating word of mouth.

  7. Measure. Once you get things up and running, keep on top of the traffic to see if the investment's been worth it. How do you do that? Google Analytics is a good place to start. It provides tons of information -- and it's free.

  8. Follow up. Finally, you need to figure out how you'll integrate your new site or new online campaign into your business. Who will update the site? Who'll answer incoming inquiries? How will you keep them coming back? Many of the answers to these questions will depend on your business, but remember: unless the site's care and feeding (and the following up of leads and ongoing e-mail marketing efforts) become part of someone's job description, it ain't gonna happen. Make sure someone's explicitly assigned to your online efforts. Otherwise, it'll get lost in the shuffle.

There's no reason for small businesses to be scared of moving their marketing online as long as you take a reasoned and disciplined approach. Start by answering some of these questions and see where you stand.

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