by Bonny L. Georgia, PC Computing
Marketing is a critical job for any company. And being a small shop makes it even more important to grab big exposure. Here's how to make your customers (and your competitors) sit up and take notice -— without spending a small fortune.
Grab easy publicity
And you thought your modem was just for Web surfing. Use it to reach the press, which will in turn reach your potential customers. It's easier and more affordable than ever with Web services.
How do you do it? With a well-written, newsworthy press release. But whether you're announcing a new product, a staffing change, or a special event, it's not enough to reformat a paper release and blast it over the Internet to the masses. Tailor your message for the Web. At the Internet News Bureau's Tips page you'll find plenty of advice for getting started. Also check out InfoScavenger's PR tips page.
Once your release is Internet friendly, zero in on the media most likely to cover your news and send it automatically using a PR submission service. Internet News Bureau charges just $125 to e-mail a 500-word release to journalists in 10 topic categories, or $225 to hit an A-list of more than 1,300 key press contacts. BusinessWire offers similar national media coverage but also lets you target regional, state, or city contacts for less than $100 per message. You can get a break on BusinessWire press release services through Netscape's Web Site Garage.
If you're planning a special marketing event, let the Web take care of all the details. At Evite.com, a free service, enter the info for your event, then upload your e-mail list. Evite.com sends out invitations, then handles all the responses. For a quick summary of your head count—plus answers to any questions you asked of invitees—head to your personalized Web page for an overview.
Electronic newsletters are another low-hassle, low-cost way to keep customers up-to-date. If you've got a paper newsletter and mailing list already, ask customers whether they would prefer an e-mail version. Also add a subscription form to your Web site so others can sign up. If you want to instantly beef up your electronic mailing list, buy a targeted list from Yesmail.com. The service matches you up with people who've signed up to receive information on your product or service. Expect to pay about 25 cents per name. Maintaining your list and sending out your newsletter is a snap with free Web-based services such as ListBot or Onelist. As an added bonus, both services collect demographic information about subscribers that you can use in other marketing efforts.
Hit the traffic jackpot
Building a Web site is easier than ever, but guiding a steady stream of customers to your digital doorway takes work. Fortunately, site promotion doesn't have to drain your bank account.
The first thing you should do to increase site traffic is make sure people can find you when they use search engines or Web directories. For a quick and easy way to generate more hits, use software like Web Site Traffic Builder Web Master Edition (US$149) or Web Position Gold Professional (US$149). Web Site Traffic Builder generates metatags for your pages and then submits your site to more than 200 search engines and directories. Web Position Gold submits your site to 13 popular search engines, and gives you a suite of utilities for submitting, tracking, and improving the ranking of your site. Also check out VirtualPromote.com, which offers tutorials and advice on how to get your site noticed.
Banner ad exchanges like MSN LinkExchange and SmartAge SmartClicks can also help attract customers. Here's how it works: You send the free service an ad for your site and a corresponding URL for linking. The service then sends you HTML code that rotates in banner ads from other members. The more ads people view on your site, the more your banner is displayed by other members' sites. Need more exposure and willing to pay for it? Premium ad placement starts as low as US$100 for 5,000 ad impressions on Yahoo through LinkExchange or 8,350 ad impressions on Excite through SmartAge.
Affiliate programs like ClickTrade and BeFree are designed to drive traffic to your site and put money in your pocket. As an affiliate, you let your Web site carry ads for a complementary merchant's goods (for example, an online antique store might add a link to books about antiques). In return, you get commissions for every purchase made through the ad. When your Web store traffic increases, BeFree and ClickTrade will help you develop an affiliate network of your own.
Keep a lid on spam
Beware of buying lists of e-mail addresses and sending out unsolicited marketing pitches. This might bring a trickle of new business, but spamming of this sort is more likely to irritate recipients or land you in hot water with your ISP. Add a registration form to your Web site instead, and send mail to visitors only after you've gotten their permission. While you're at it, post a privacy statement that ensures names, addresses, and demographic details of registered individuals will not be sold or otherwise traded outside of your company.
Guerrilla traffic tactics
One-time Web site visitors are nice. But get them to come back and you're more likely to make a sale. Sweepstakes giveaways, Web-only sales and coupons, online scavenger hunts, and other events generate excitement and give customers an incentive to return. They also give you the chance to gather names and addresses for your marketing list.
Referrals are another way to land new customers. Offer to give your most loyal customers or business partners a link or icon to their Web site on your own site, and ask them to do the same for you. Then showcase these reciprocal links or icons.
Cheap and easy publicity
Give it away. Donate services or sponsor a sports team
Get involved. Become an active member of user groups and industry organizations.
Be a resource. Make yourself available as an expert for news articles and public-speaking engagements.
Spread the word. Include your company's logo and URL on letterhead, packaging, and giveaway items.
Plug it. Include your company's Web site and contact info when you post advice to newsgroups.
Free marketing resources