The Benefits Of Internet Marketing

Whilst it is fair to say that Internet marketing has certainly had an effect on offline trading figures, the comparisons are not directly proportionate for the simple reason that the Internet has opened up huge new markets which were not feasible before this ‘information superhighway’ was born. The interactive nature of Internet marketing, and the low costs involved in distributing information and media to a global audience, makes a very attractive platform for any business model, regardless of size. Latest figures from credit card companies report a 15 billion dollar turnover from Internet sales in the last year, and rising rapidly. So it is not surprising that budgets for Internet marketing are taking a bigger slice of the advertising cake and the numbers of individuals earning their living directly from Internet marketing are ballooning off the scale.

Internet marketing draws together all the creative and technical aspects of the Internet, which include design, development, advertising and sales, and the techniques used in Internet marketing include search engine marketing, email marketing, affiliate marketing, online advertising and more recently, social media marketing methods as employed in blog marketing, and viral marketing.

Internet marketing is the process of building, growing and promoting a business individual or organization through any online activity including websites, blog sites, article marketing, press releases, online market research, email marketing, and online advertising. In order to fully comprehend the huge benefits offered by the Internet marketing process, it is difficult not to draw comparisons with offline marketing methods, but it has to be remembered that one is not a replacement for the other. Internet marketing and offline marketing will both have an important part to play in the future of any business, assuming it is not purely Internet based. Let us now look at the benefits that Internet marketing has to offer..

Low Cost

Since the Internet can be regarded as a ‘free for all’ activity center where information is shared freely with all interested parties, the cost involved in the overall Internet marketing strategy is relatively low. Apart from the obvious expenditure incurred in operating a web site, a large proportion of the budgets set aside for Internet marketing will typically be swallowed up by services and resources offering expertise in the various marketing techniques that fall under the Internet marketing umbrella. For example, Search Engine Optimization plays an important role in the positioning of a web site in search engine rankings and the larger organizations will often employ the services of a search engine optimization company to carry out this duty. Equally there are Internet Advertising Agencies available to handle all aspects of online advertising. Smaller companies or sole traders may carry out their own search engine optimization and advertising campaigns and would need only a few hundred dollars budget for marketing software tools. Either way, the overall cost of Internet marketing is much lower than the cost of a similar offline campaign.

Work From Any Location

All activities that fall under the Internet marketing banner can easily be organized from a laptop computer. Most communications are made using online contact forms, email or instant messenger, and payments for items such as web site hosting, internet marketing software tools and resource fees can all be paid online using a credit card. Web site design and management is also another area of Internet marketing easily managed from a laptop computer. The versatility of the ‘laptop’ means that these duties can be carried out from any location and therefore those involved in the Internet marketing fraternity can easily work from a simple home office, or even when away from home. Commuting is totally unnecessary.

The Level Playing Field

Unlike offline commerce, the use of Internet marketing techniques now make it possible for an individual or sole trader to compete with the larger organizations in his online business. It’s true that a larger company whose name was on everyone’s lips would have a head start in the marketing of their web site, and a larger presence in the search engine pages, beyond that the doors are opened and it’s quite common to see a smaller commercial outfit riding higher than their much larger competition in search engine results. Yes the online advertising budgets would be much bigger for the national companies, but there are many Internet marketing techniques and resources available to the solo marketers that would help them to stay in touch. There are literally hundreds of new Internet millionaires developed on a daily basis.

There are also many niche areas with good benefits derived from Internet marketing, but generally the process is attractive all round as a method of promoting any business, recreational or personal projects across the Internet. Internet Marketing is where the future lies for businesses large and small. The Internet has arrived and no-one can deny it!

Trevor Taylor

Home Internet Marketing Business ABCs

Almost everyone nowadays wants to have his very own profitable home internet marketing business that can ease his financial burdens and help him sail smoothly through the ravages of the global financial crisis currently engulfing the economies of the world. Understanding of the ABCs or fundamentals of internet marketing is essential to the success of any online home business.

Internet Marketing

Different people of different profession and stature have view internet marketing in different perspectives. People in one hand consider internet marketing as simply the act of placing banner ads or inbound links on other websites. On the opposite hand, there are many companies claiming that it is the secret to exponentially increasing one’s wealth overnight. Caution should be exercised however, because most of these many companies only try to make you buy some sort of internet marketing program that they proclaim will make you rich by morning.

At the present, internet marketing or online marketing has successfully evolved to a higher stage which now involves a combination of many components a business can utilize to increase sales regardless whether the said business is being executed fully online, partly online, or fully offline. Internet marketing is fully discretionary and it can’t be fully said that it is strictly needed for success but its recent popularity has caused those who don’t use it get left behind by those who do. It can provide a vast and unique competitive advantage to any company. It is for this reason that some companies even rely purely on online marketing to promote their business, its products, and services.

Internet Marketing Objectives

Internet marketing is being employed to make use of the Internet to do at least one of the succeeding:

1. Communicate a company’s message about itself, its products, or its services online.
2. Conduct research as to the nature (demographics, preferences, and needs) of existing and potential customers.
3. Sell goods, services, or advertising space over the Internet.

Internet Marketing Components

Internet marketing is made up of many components which may be summarized into the following:

1. Making a business website and getting it launched and published over the Internet. It may consist of text, images and possibly audio and video elements that broadcast the company’s message to visitors, informing current customers and prospects of the features, benefits, and value-for-money of its products and services. The website may also include additional features that extend its capabilities like the ability to capture and store leads from potential customers or the function to directly sell a product or service online. A website may very well be the best way to establish a company’s own internet persona and business entity. Websites can always outperform their offline equivalents – brochures and mail order catalogs.

2. Marketing a website over the World Wide Web via search engines otherwise known as Search Engine Marketing or SEM is the process of helping a website shop up in the top search engine pages whenever one makes a search with certain defined keywords through search engine optimization or SEO, pay-per-click or PPC advertising, or pay-for-inclusion or PFI advertising in which a website is listed in online website directories, the same way as with yellow page listings.

3. Email marketing is the technique of getting information about a product or service out to customers or getting feedback from customers about a product or service through the use of emails. Email addresses of customers or potential customers can be collected through the use of the company website or purchased from lead generation specialists. Email marketing is simply the online version of direct mail marketing. There are different methods that can be utilized to do this form of online marketing like the regular distribution of newsletters or mass mailing of offers related to the company’s product or services.

4. Banner advertising is the online marketing equivalent of the traditional ads in newspapers and magazines. It is the free placement of ads on a website usually known as free ad directories.

5. Online press releasing is the placement of a newsworthy story about a company, regular distribution of newsletters or mass mailing of offers related to the company’s product or services on online wire service or online press release directories.

6. Blog marketing is the process of posting comments, expressing opinions or making online announcements in a discussion forum or blog directory that can be done by hosting your own blog or by comment and link exchanges with other blogs whose content is related to your product or service.

7. Article marketing involves the syndication or online publishing in article sites or directories of freshly written or unique articles that tackle things related to your business, products, or services. These articles have the potential to spread and circulate over the internet since online article hosting services allow the re-publication of articles so long as all links in the articles are maintained. Traffic boost can be the primary result of article marketing, together with the promotion of your brand to a wider audience through the syndication of these articles.

Internet Marketing and Home Business
A website is an element that all internet marketing components, prospective customers, and clients anticipate a business to have. Through the years, having a website has become one of the best ways to get a consumer’s trust and interest in a company and its products and services. Having no website may even cause a prospect to lose interest and head to a competitor. Up-to-date information available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week something that can best come from a website. And the all-encompassing use of online means has cased many prospects to decide to transact only with companies that have a good and useful website.

Engaging in online marketing and having a website is so comprehensive in scope that it can benefit even a business that only has very local customers like a single location food store or clothing store. Internet marketing offers a very cost-effective and comprehensive way of attracting customers and it also gives a business a worldwide reach with its own Web presence that can be very hard to get from other methods especially in the case of businesses whose customers are not restricted to ma single geographical area only.

A website though in some instances is not a complete necessity, can definitely provide a home business operator various benefits due to the virtual nature of most home businesses. A website can act as a storefront for direct selling of products and services as well as serve as a very inexpensive means of getting prospects as well as clients know what your business does or what products it sells especially to those home-based businesses that do not have a physical location.

The internet has been one of the primary drivers that fueled the growth and expansion of home based businesses because it has paved the way for starting and maintaining a web presence with reasonably low cost. It is therefore a must that internet marketing becomes as integral part of your business plan and marketing strategy.

Finding the Right Internet Marketing Mix

Determining and utilizing the right marketing strategy is essential to business success. Defining the percentage of marketing efforts that should be done online, the needed Internet marketing elements and the amount of focus to be given to the website are all vital to the formulation of a marketing plan that will work. The nature of business, the budget, and some personal traits may all affect the marketing mix. All these, and many others influence the development of an internet marketing business blue print.

Using Offline Elements with Internet Marketing Strategies

Only businesses that transact 100% of their business online can make use of a fully online marketing scheme. All others should utilize a marketing mix made up of both online and offline efforts. Traditional methods can greatly supplement the effects and benefits of web marketing. In fact, there are even businesses that conduct all their operations completely online and yet employ the placement of traditional ads on newspapers and magazines to drive prospects to visiting their website and participate in online transactions with the firm. Perfect examples of business that integrate offline elements as components of their internet marketing strategies are Expedia, Travelocity and Monster.com. These firms shell out huge investments in radio and TV advertising as well as other traditional means of advertising to get consumers visit their sites where the real businesses dealings are being transacted.

Develop Internet Marketing Strategies You Like

Only incorporate in your strategy the marketing techniques you like or those that do not annoy you whenever someone does them to you, because most people probably feel the same way. The most hated marketing tool as regarded by many is spam. This is why many companies nowadays do not include email marketing in their arsenal of promotion methods.

Many forget the fact that email marketing does not necessarily mean the sending out of unsolicited emails to every email address you can find. Email marketing can also be accomplished by incorporating a visitor registration webpage on your site. This page then works as a tool to gather email addresses of interested prospects. You can then create a newsletter which you can send to all who have registered in your site. You may also consider updating your newsletter and sending it periodically to your prospects. You may also create a schedule for sending regular emails just to see how your prospects are doing, if your company can be of assistance in any way, or if any of their wants or needs has changed since when you last had a conversation. This is a very efficient way of utilizing email to boost your business promotion even without engaging in email marketing.

Your Budget and Internet Marketing Strategy

The budget plays a very important role in any marketing strategy as it lays out which components and techniques you can develop and exploit. A website for example needs you to select a domain name and then register and purchase it from a web hosting service. Due to the growing demand for web hosting services, the competition has greatly tightened and many now offer discounts. There are those that offer domain name registration for as low as $1.99 per year – provided you also purchase other services, like hosting, which is now also available for less than $10 per month. Next is the design and content of your website. Your can design and write your won content or your can hire a graphics artist for the design and a web content writer for the content. You can also opt to make use of the online website builders that can be found all over the internet.

After your site is all ready to go, getting it found is the next task, because no matter how good or useful a site is, it is of no value if people cannot find it. This is the point where search engine optimization or SEO comes in. SEO is vital to every website. You can either learn and do the SEO yourself or you can hire search engine optimizers to do it for you.

Web content should be search engine optimized from the time it was written. Same goes for the web design as the manner in which a website is designed can either enhance or limit the site traffic it will be receiving in the future. SEO should definitely be a major part of any internet marketing strategy. You can opt to do things faster but more costly or vice versa, depending on your perspective and your budget.

Once your website is up and running, you’ll either need to maintain it yourself or outsource the duties to an independent Webmaster to do it for you.

Google AdWords and similar pay-per-click (PPC) advertising services can be a good choice as they go easy on your budget due to the fact that you can specify the maximum amount you are willing or able to spend. You also get to decide how much you will be paying whenever someone clicks on your site as well as the limit of how much you will be paying per day. You also get control over whether the pay-per-click ads appear only on major search engines or on other related websites as well. Geographic and time restrictions regarding when and where your ads run are also at your disposal, making the said ads quite easy to update. Real time tracking of the benefits is also possible with PPC services. You can also use images and/or videos with PPC advertising, which may even be less costly than placing banner ads on other websites. You can also, on the other hand, utilize pay-per-click advertising to earn money with your website to such programs as Google AdSense, Yahoo Publisher or Microsoft AdCenter.

Tracking the Results of Internet Marketing Strategies

Putting up and operating a successful home-based business is not that easy especially for the average home business operator. Tracking is very important especially when you spend money on strategic Internet marketing initiatives. You should know the effectiveness on such initiatives to be able to make the right decision on whether to go on or discontinue with them. If you are satisfied with the performance of the currently implemented techniques, continue using them. If you are not satisfied, learn from your mistakes. Determine why such approaches did not work and find other means that can work better. Such practice is sure to improve your skills and enhance your chances for success.

Your business will mature and grow faster and more efficiently if you know which internet marketing strategies are worth spending your money.

Remain patient in tracking the performance of your internet marketing efforts and they will surely pay off. Always keep in mind that effects do not occur overnight and a significant amount of time is usually needed before you can feel the benefits. The same is with revenues, at first your efforts may seem to be in vain but after some time, more revenues will surely materialize.

Strategic Internet Marketing Needs to be Flexible

There are millions of people wanting to succeed with their own home internet marketing business and most of these also engage in strategic internet marketing. It is therefore vital that you make your marketing strategy flexible. It should be ready to quickly absorb changes and necessary adjustments. However, some knowledge, some capable assistance, and a well-managed strategic Internet marketing plan can increase your chances for success.

Should You Hire an Internet Marketing Expert?

Starting out in internet marketing is almost always overwhelming
to e-business newcomers, even if they are seasoned business
professionals or marketing experts. Internet marketing is truly
original and quite different from traditional marketing. The
complexity is compounded for those who do not have vast
experience operating or marketing a business. Whatever the
circumstances, many new internet entrepreneurs ponder the idea of
hiring an internet marketing expert to get their internet-based
business off the ground.

There are different types of internet marketing experts who
provide various levels of support and services. Hiring or
contracting to a full-service internet marketing expert can be
quite expensive, but using limited services of an internet
marketing expert can be both cost-effective and advantageous for
a new internet business. Another option to hiring an internet
marketing expert is to pursue training and educational
opportunities in internet marketing that will prepare you to
become an internet marketing expert yourself.

Some services offered internet marketing expert firms include:

1. Preparation of marketing plans

2. Internet marketing
consulting services

3. Management of specific internet marketing
campaigns

4. Full-service planning and management of the internet
marketing program

Having an internet marketing expert craft a marketing plan that
is specific to your business is a good way to gain an
introduction to internet marketing and to realize your internet
marketing potential. A marketing plan prepared by an internet
marketing expert should contain an analysis of your business and
your industry as well as identifying and evaluating your
competition and recommending a niche market for you to target.

The internet marketing expert should also outline internet
marketing strategies for you to use to reach your target market
and to drive targeted traffic to your website. Specifics of your
planned internet marketing campaign should be included in the
marketing plan along with milestones and an internet marketing
budget. Using an internet marketing expert in this capacity will
provide you with a clear internet marketing plan that will serve
as a guide for your internet marketing program.

Internet consulting services provided by an internet marketing
expert can be provided one-on-one, through classes or through
coaching. Generally, such consulting services accomplish the same
thing as a marketing plan prepared by an internet marketing
expert, but they are less formal and more intended to condition
you to prepare and administer your own marketing plan and
program. Working with an internet marketing expert on a
consulting basis is a great way to learn about internet marketing
and to prepare yourself to manage your own internet marketing
program.

Sometimes you may find it beneficial to hire or contract an
internet marketing expert to manage a specific area of your
internet marketing campaign that is time consuming. Search engine
optimization and pay-per-click management are examples of these
specific activities that may benefit from the use of an internet
marketing expert. Both require ongoing monitoring and adjustments
to be continually effective and cost-efficient. Linking campaigns
are also ongoing, time consuming tasks that you may want to
consider outsourcing to an internet marketing expert.

A full-service internet marketing expert generally provides a
wide-array of internet marketing services. Among them are the
marketing planning tasks of reviewing the industry, identifying
the competition, analyzing the market, pinpointing a target
market, developing a unique selling proposition, identifying
marketing methods, and planning the marketing budget. Once the
marketing plan is in place and approved by you, the full-service
internet marketing expert actually launches and manages your
internet marketing campaign.

Considering all of the levels of service that an internet
marketing expert can provide will help you to decide whether or
not to hire an internet marketing expert. The main advantages of
using the services of an internet marketing expert are access to
expertise and freeing up your time. The disadvantage, of course,
is the cost associated with the use of an internet marketing
expert. In making that crucial decision for your unique business,
a cost-benefit analysis can provide guidance to ensure that you
make the best decision for your business.

Internet Marketing 101: Online Marketing for Small Business

Introduction

You own a small business. Do you need a website? An Internet presence can be a necessity or a resource-draining boondoggle, depending on your business and your target audience. You shouldn’t build or maintain a website simply because “everyone else has one.” However, even if you own a one-person services company and get all the business you can handle through word of mouth, you can still create an online presence with a minimum of time and expense.

If and when you do develop a business website, you’ll need to make some kind of investment in Internet-based marketing. Consumers increasingly and overwhelmingly use the Internet to research and buy goods and services. This means the competition is robust, and if your site doesn’t announce its presence it will simply sit and gather (virtual) dust in some computer’s memory.

If you’ve convinced yourself that you need to enter the web marketing arena, the following report provides a fundamental primer on the most widely used tactics for both paid and free Internet advertising. Just remember that each of the topics introduced here is complex enough that there are entire books written about them, so if something appeals to you do some additional research before jumping in.

Before You Start

There are two main questions you must ask yourself before starting any marketing efforts, whether on- or offline: “Who is my audience?” and “What are my objectives?”

Audience

The audience for most business marketing activities is obviously past, present, and future customers. However, as in traditional advertising and marketing, it helps to narrow down who you are trying to reach, segmenting your market by age, geography, gender, interests, occupation. Certain methods of Internet marketing, such as pay-per-click ads, allow you to target your customers based on this type of segmentation.

Objectives

We can assume that the overall objective of most marketing is to sell products and/or services, but you may have additional objectives for online marketing. These related objectives will hopefully end up driving increased sales, but they can be more subtle than simply asking customers to buy right now. For example, your online marketing plan might include goals such as these:

  • Support and increase visibility of your company’s brand.
  • Improve search engine rankings.
  • Offer reference information related to your business sector.
  • Increase number of registered users or newsletter subscribers.
  • Drive traffic to your company website.

After defining your audience and marketing goals, you can begin to formulate an Internet marketing strategy and tactics. When getting into online marketing, it is important that you maintain brand consistency. Build on the reputation that you have already established. Your on-line presence should mirror that of your “brick and mortar” presence. Use the same logo and tagline so that people will understand that you are the same company. Having an online presence is a way to build on what you have already accomplished.

In the remainder of this report we’ll look at the most common ways you can use the Internet to deliver your message and start increasing your sales.

Table of Contents

websites

E-Mail

Newsletters

Other Announcements

Search Engine Marketing and Display Advertising

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Pay-per-Click (PPC)

Display Advertising

Social Media and Networking

Decide: Who, What, Where, When, and Why?

YouTube, Facebook, Pinterest, Etc.

Twitter

Blogs

Forums & Discussion Groups

Article Placement / E-Zines

Other Internet Marketing Outlets

Wikipedia

Directories

websites

We won’t get into the vast topic of how to build and manage a website, but if you aim to use the techniques described below, it is nearly essential to have one. Most of your marketing efforts will have a “call to action” that involves your audience visiting your website to research products or services, find contact information, sign up for a newsletter, or place an online order. Whatever you are asking people to do in your online promotions, make sure the website allows them to easily complete that task. One other vital component of any business website is an analytics program (Google offers a fairly robust application free of charge), so you can track how well your marketing efforts are working and calculate the return on your advertising investment (ROI).

How can you develop an online presence at little or no cost? There are several companies that offer free site building tools and hosting services. If you go this route, select a company that has a proven track record, so your hard work isn’t wasted when the company goes out of business or suspends the service. A couple of reliable options are Google Sites and Yola. If you have any money in your budget at all, you should probably just spend the less than $100 per year it takes to buy a personalized domain name (for example, “mybusiness.com”) and a Web hosting service. Another potential option, depending on your business and marketing goals, is to create a free blog (see below for more details). The most popular free blogging services as of this writing are WordPress and Blogger.

E-Mail Newsletters

E-mail newsletters provide one of the most highly performing avenues for marketing. You can collect customer e-mail addresses by asking visitors that come to your website to subscribe, by requesting e-mail addresses from anyone who visits your physical location, or by purchasing an e-mail list. To generate a higher rate of readership, make sure the audience is narrowly targeted and has some vested interest in your product. By sending out your newsletter on a regular schedule (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.) you can counteract the transient and temporary nature of Internet users by continually reminding them of your company’s existence. Affordable services like Constant Contact can be used to manage mailing lists, statistics, and opt-in/out functions.

Caveat: Sending commercial e-mail messages to people who have not agreed to receive your mailings can result in severe fines and penalties from the federal government per terms of the CAN-SPAM Act.

Newsletter content should appeal to your defined audiences, with industry- or product-related news and events, company-specific news and events, practical reference information, and interesting statistical and demographic information. The newsletter copy should publicize links to appropriate pages within your website.

You will need to maintain one or more separate lists for the purpose of sending targeted messages to particular audiences (see Other Announcements below). You might combine all your lists to send a monthly newsletter, and send other bulletins to past or potential customers as appropriate.

Other Announcements

Other announcements are e-mailings that can consist of press releases, coupons, special notices, or anything you want to communicate specifically to members of one or more e-mail lists.

Search Engine Marketing, Pay-per-Click and Display Advertising

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization means constructing a website that is easily crawled by search engine spiders, and it encompasses a variety of techniques designed to improve your site’s (or page’s) ranking in the search engine results page. The goal is for your site to be found by searchers who are looking for sites related to a certain keyword or phrase, for example “little red wagon” if you are in the business of selling toy wagons. SEO can be divided into on-page activities (e.g., amount of content, metadata, links, programming methods and structural issues) and off-page activities (most importantly, obtaining links from other websites to your site).

Pay-per-Click (PPC)

Pay-per-click advertising refers to text ads displayed on search engine results pages (versus “organic” results achieved by SEO) and other sites, usually in the margins. In the case of Google AdWords and Microsoft’s adCenter, you can open an account and specify the keyword(s) that, when searched for, will generate an ad that links to your website. You pay only when a searcher clicks an ad and is directed to your site. In the example below, the key phrase is “little red wagon,” and pay-per-click ads are located at top (in yellow) and in the right-hand column (subtitled “Sponsored Links”). The first organic listing is “Little Red Wagon Foundation.”

A few of the benefits of PPC advertising are that you know exactly how many people view your ads, how many of those viewers click through to your website, and (if you are using a site analytics tool) what they do once they reach your site. You can also start and stop running ads at a moment’s notice, experiment with any number of ads you like, and fund your campaign with as little as $10 to start.

Display Advertising

Display advertising, also called banner advertising, means purchasing ad space on another website and placing a text and/or graphic ad with a link to your site. This technique is generally more complex and expensive than pay-per-click, but can be very powerful if the right message is shown to a tightly focused audience. To achieve optimal click-through rate (CTR), advertise on websites where you assume your target audience is visiting, rather than a general interest website. Most marketers don’t purchase ad space directly from another website, but use a banner ad network to automatically place ads on appropriate websites. A couple of the biggest names in display ad serving are DoubleClick and BurstMedia.

Social Media and Networking

Social networking is the latest buzz in the modern marketing arsenal. If you have any doubt about its impact, especially on the under-40 population, read this list. Small businesses with limited resources should weigh their time spent and the potential benefits carefully, however. It can also be difficult to measure the return on your investment for some of these tactics.

The general principle of “marketing” on social networking outlets is that people who have similar interests will virtually congregate around Web content that discusses that interest. They may be interested in product information in the form of reviews or personal opinion, but hard sale approaches are mostly discouraged and unproductive. Your goal is to become a trusted advisor-which usually means revealing your identity and at least some part of your personality. If that premise makes you uncomfortable, you might still find social networking sites valuable for market research purposes. Find out what people are buying and why, then use that information to help shape your other marketing activities.

The following section describes the more popular social media outlets and sites, but keep your eyes open for new virtual spaces where you might get more attention by getting in on the ground floor.

YouTube, Facebook, Etc.

YouTube allows you to post videos on your own “channel,” a distinct Web page that can be customized and allows for posting links back to your own website. A major positive aspect of this venue is that the number of views is posted and viewers can submit comments, so you know whether your videos are popular and why.

Facebook is considered the model for modern social networking sites. Facebook allows you (individual, corporate, non-profit, etc.) to create a page, attract “likes” and reviews, communicate with followers by posting status updates, photos and videos, and so on.

Although the previously named sites are the most popular in terms of visitors, there are a couple of business-oriented networking sites that may be more useful for making business connections. LinkedIn helps you develop a network of clients, service providers, and subject experts; find business opportunities and partners; post job openings; and more. More detailed advice on best practices for using LinkedIn can be found in many online articles and blogs.

Twitter

Think of Twitter as a mini-blog (see below) that allows you to broadcast messages of 140 characters or less. The messages appear to your “followers” on their phones or computers, as well as on Twitter.com. The biggest challenges are to gain a useful number of followers and to think of something engaging to write to them. If you are a speaker, writer, or performer Twitter can be used to let your fans know what you’re doing and when. If you have a retail store you might let your followers know that you’re offering a discounted item or running a special sale. You should post a Twitter sign-up link on your website, and within your signature line in outgoing e-mail messages. You can also gain followers by following people who work in or comment on your industry, as some Twitter users will follow those who follow them.

Blogs

The word blog originally came from the term “Web log.” There’s no real standard for what a blog is, but most commonly authors use them to comment on (and link to) other online news items, websites, or other Internet content. For the most part, direct selling on a blog is frowned upon and is probably a recipe for driving away potential readers. What do you write about, then? Well, if you run an Internet marketing firm you write about trends in Web marketing, what the search engines are up to, tips for do-it-yourselfers, or what you thought of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Seriously, read some blogs and you will find all sorts of personal opinion mixed in with professional advice and commentary. The goal of your blog, however, should most likely be to establish yourself as an expert and trusted advisor in your chosen field.

You might also pursue getting your products, services, or website mentioned in related blogs by other industry experts. When a high-visibility blogger mentions a website on his or her blog, the site is exposed to a potential audience of new viewers. Often, blog postings are simply press releases that are picked up by sites that discuss topics related to a particular product or industry. More opportunities (and traffic) in this arena can be realized by developing relationships with individual bloggers.

Additional Tips:

  • Post an article that was written by someone else, just be sure to provide a link to the original article and give credit to the person wrote it. You can then give your commentary on the topic of the article or find a way to relate the information to local trends or challenges.
  • Ask colleagues to be “guest bloggers” by writing articles for you to post, again giving them credit and adding their byline and a link to their website. Using links is a good way to drive additional traffic to their sites so it’s a good trade-off for both parties.
  • Nick Francesco of AskNick.com said, “A blog gets people’s attention and Twitter keeps it.” Consider using these two outlets together.

Forums & Discussion Groups

A forum (also known as discussion group, message board or bulletin board) is a component of a website where users can ask questions, offer advice, or share experiences with others about a certain topic or topics. Nearly every hobby on earth has a number of popular forums wherein members offer their thoughts and feelings on all aspects of their favorite pastime. Contributing a comment (with a link to your website) in discussion groups related to your products or services can create a small surge or spike in traffic, but usually has little long-lasting effect. To maximize effectiveness, target forums on high-traffic sites that have 1,000+ users, and reply to topics with larger numbers of views (relative to other posted topics).

You can easily build your own bulletin board/forum component on your site with free or low-cost software. User forums have the potential to greatly increase the “stickiness” of a site, given a critical mass of traffic required to generate new discussions and keep participants interested in returning. You can start by “seeding” topics on your own, but there won’t be any results until traffic is directed to the forums. The conundrum for small businesses may be the time required to moderate a forum once it becomes successful. One solution is to seek out a volunteer moderator who exhibits a keen interest in your field. A sample of a baseball trading card forum is shown in the screen shot below.

Article Placement / E-Zines

Another avenue for generating incoming links and traffic to your site is the free article market. Article submission (or e-zine) websites allow you to publish articles on a variety of topics. Examples include EzineArticles and ArticleCity.com.

Depending on terms of use, these articles may be used as content on other websites, or collected on the site where submitted. The main objective of most article contributors is to increase their search engine rankings with the placement of backlinks on other reputable sites. Providing reliable and accurate reference information is secondary, and the traffic potential from article readers is questionable.

Obtaining links from article submission sites isn’t likely to improve your site’s search engine rankings much. However, existing content from a print newsletter or other written material can be re-purposed with a relatively small time investment. Be aware that creating articles from your website’s content verbatim may cause search engines to penalize your site, as the search engines take a dim view of text that is republished multiple times (“duplicate content” in search engine optimization terms). Submitting articles to sites with the most traffic will give your site the best chance to be discovered by new readers.

Caveat: Once an article is submitted, you have little or no control over who uses your content and for what purpose, depending on the copyright policies of the site on which the article is posted.

Other Internet Marketing Outlets

Wikipedia

Wikipedia is, essentially, an online encyclopedia. The unique aspect of Wikipedia is that users generate the content, though content must be approved by volunteer editors. Traffic will grow if and when others link to the entry. If you add content, your time commitment will be relatively minor, and the benefits might include improved search engine ranking and a slight increase in traffic to your site. As with other forms of Internet communication, a Wikipedia entry that is essentially a commercial for a product, service, or company will not be viewed positively and is unlikely to be approved by editors.

Directories

Online directories allow Internet users to browse through categories of topics to find websites related to a certain subject. There are directories for businesses, blogs, websites in general, and more. Many directories are free, and some only list you if you pay. The mother of free directories is the Open Directory Project, and by all accounts the best paid directory for business is the Yahoo! Directory ($299 annually). Be aware that you might wait a long time for some of the free directories to list your site, as they may rely on volunteer screeners. Directories not only allow consumers to find you in their listings, they also help get your site indexed in the major search engines. If you submit your site to a directory, make sure to read the submission guidelines and follow them exactly.