If you don't maintain a presence on the Internet, whether your business is online or off, competition will devour you. Because the marketplace has become so hypercompetitive and more sophisticated, access to information as vast and as fast as the web is all the more reason to market your products and services in cyberspace.
Unlike phone numbers (or directories that list them in alphabetical order), web site URLs are found mainly through keywords (search engines), links, offline marketing, and referrals. Therefore, searching for your site will be much more efficient if your company or product is positioned well -- in the mind and not just on search engines.
Since the Internet is fast becoming a medium of equal stature to the TV and radio, a company not present on the web can no longer be considered as just plain old-fashioned. It will become easy prey to its competition and, more significant, to the negative perception of the marketplace that the product or service is also not up to par.
It's Not The Size That Counts
One of the biggest advantages of being on the web is the fact that the small or medium-sized company can look just as good (and be as effective if not profitable) as the larger ones. An Internet business is more versatile and can often personalize its offers. Every indicator of how the future will be points to a much greater demand for personalized services.
The Internet offers the ability to closely tailor products and services to exactly what one wants and needs. Consequently, it is safe to conclude that the future of the Internet lies in personalized services supplied by small companies and individuals.
While they lack advertising budgets similar to those from the big guns, smaller-sized entrepreneurs can still obtain huge amounts of traffic through more economical means of promotion. These are not restricted to banners and search engines either. They comprise many processes that should be included in one's portfolio of online marketing efforts.
There are emails (or, more specifically, signature files), specialized directories, topic-specific indices, Intranets, strategic marketing alliances, links on non-competing web sites, buttons, discussion groups, classified ad sites (both free and paid), "opt-in" mailing lists, reciprocal links, newsgroups, online conferences, Internet chats, community-based sites, and specialized online discussion forums -- all of which can help market a company effectively online.
Look at it this way: The greatest rule in marketing success often taught in the academic world is "location, location, location." In cyberspace, that rule applies even more. In other words, your site must be located in as many places as possible and it must be as easily accessible.
Thus, get others to link to you. How do you do that? Well, to cover such techniques within the scope of this article would be impossible (that's what our private web site is for!) ... but let me share one of them with you that has been tremendously successful for me.
If your site offers freebies (especially free information, such as articles, reports, e-zines, books, software, and so on) or a special incentive of some kind on a product or service you sell, use the "tradeoff" technique and ask for a link to your site in return. If you offer something of value, not only will people feel the need to reciprocate but also merely asking helps to elevate that value in the mind of the prospect.
In addition to freebies and special offers, you can also provide tools as a great way to get linked. Also known as "interactive" traffic generators, some examples of tools include games, quizzes, surveys, polls, form mailers, referral functions, videos, search functions, mini-directories, contests, article archives, and greeting cards. There are also reminder services (such as http://www.constantcontact.com), message boards (such as http://www.insidetheweb.com), and chat rooms (such as http://www.talkcity.com and http://www.beseen.com).
Other interactive traffic generators are often referred to as "plug-ins," since they help visitors to experience your site rather than just view it. But server side traffic plug-ins in particular are better since there is no need for a program to enable that experience. In other words, these plug-ins actually work on the site itself and not on the visitor's computer that may not have the necessary software in the first place -- which is why I have a penchant for CGI or ASP instead of Java.
If you want to add more interactivity to your site, there are many scripts available that you can use -- and many of them are free. Some great traffic "plug-in" script sites are:
Overlooked Traffic Generation Tools
But one of the simplest interactive traffic generators that is often overlooked is the process of delivering pages of consistently updated information -- in short, fresh content. It can be as simple as changing the content of your site to reflect current events and issues, continually adding new articles and special reports, or posting past newsletter issues in a special archive.
The element of scarcity is also a great way to generate an abundant quantity of visitors, such as by offering time-sensitive or password-protected information. In the case of the latter, people who wish to view the "secret" information will have to apply for it. For example, if you offer a free report, don't make it accessible directly to visitors. Have a form on your site that visitors need to fill out in order to gain access.
Beyond content, offline traffic generation is just as important. And the first rule in doing so effectively is to specialize. The most common mistake newcomers to any field of business make is to think that by expanding their portfolio they will "secure" more business, and nothing can be further from the truth. Specializing and narrowing one's focus as much as possible will paradoxically increase the likelihood of getting more hits let alone business.
Specialization is in itself a fundamental marketing process. It's amazingly effective in creating top-of-mind awareness among a target market. For instance, an accountant specializing in car dealerships will get more traffic than a general accountant will. An online clothing store specializing in babies and mothers-to-be will get more business than a typical clothing store will. A photographer specializing in weddings will get more hits than a regular photographer will.
Specialization is often referred to as "niche" marketing. As more and more businesses get started (as well as more and more web sites populate cyberspace), the less time, energy, and money people will have to spend in making choices for those with whom they will choose to do business. Therefore, have your site focused on a niche, a specific theme, or a particular concept. Think of a laser, which is basically a beam of highly concentrated light. You want to focus like a laser and thus burn your site into visitors' minds.
Nevertheless, here's the bottom-line: While you can (and should) use them, never rely solely on search engines and banners for generating traffic. If you do, your competition will always be a step ahead.
Originally published in IMC's Internet Marketing Chronicles.
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