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Market Your Business on the Web

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Web marketing isn't just about buying ads anymore. Learn how social networking and blogging can bring the world to your doorstep.

By:  Lynn Celmer

What do all of the 2008 presidential candidates, the cast of Grey’s Anatomy, and thousands of small business owners have in common? They all have profiles on MySpace, the popular social networking website. More than ever before, social networking sites such as MySpace are important resources for entrepreneurs seeking to market their businesses on the Web. Along with weblogs, social bookmarking sites, and wikis (essentially comprehensive how-to guides), social networking sites are a part of “Web 2.0,” a term that refers to the recent surge in reader participation and collaboration in the creation of Internet material. Spending even minimal amounts of time marketing yourself in these ways could be massively beneficial for your company, resulting in a higher search ranking for your business and potentially much more income.

Social Networking

Daniel Barbalho and Bart Sasso, former college roommates at Georgia Tech, believe in the marketing power of MySpace. The pair owes much of the success of their small business, Atlanta-based Esperanza Clothing Company, to their MySpace profile. They originally tried selling their edgy Atlanta-inspired T-shirts to small stores and at local music shows in person, but they soon realized that they needed a cost-effective way to reach a wider audience. In August 2005, with virtually no money for advertising, the pair decided to set up a profile for their business on MySpace with a link to their company website. “We could tell which website visitors used to find our company website and the majority of them were coming straight from our MySpace page,” Barbalho said.

Shortly after creating their profile, Esperanza began receiving messages from happy customers who had bought their shirts online from as far away as Australia, Brazil, and Italy. Today, Esperanza has about 1,500 MySpace friends from all over the world, and over half of them have purchased their T-shirts.

Over 25 billion dollars were spent online last December, up 19% from 2006. Deciding whether or not a social networking site like MySpace can benefit your business really depends on your target market. Contrary to the myths, MySpace is not just for kids. In fact, of the more than 114 million global MySpace users, the average user is in the mid-30s. Best of all, these users are all potential consumers. While social networking sites might not benefit a plumbing company, business owners in the fashion industry or local photographers could see positive results.

Blogging

Another free Internet marketing tool that has helped the Esperanza team is the blog that they added to their company website around four months ago. Blogs are topical news or personal sites that businesses can create to inform potential and existing customers about their products, services, and activities. A blog feature is included with a MySpace profile, and there are many free independent weblog sites available. Esperanza, for instance, uses WordPress, a fully customizable blog interface. Other business owners might want to check out Blogger.com and Vox.com. Both offer simple and attractive templates for the technically challenged business owner. Barbalho said he and others at Esperanza try to update their blogs daily and include posts about their new line of T-shirts or events they are holding for a local charity.
In addition to posting their own blogs, they paid $50 to run a banner ad on a popular Georgia Tech weblog and are looking to do the same on several other Atlanta sites. The ad includes a promo code for a 25 percent discount. “Blogging has really helped us because it really helps us focus on our target market,” Barbalho said.

Because Barbalho and the other owners of Esperanza have regular nine to five jobs, they find time after work and on weekends to market their business on the Web. According to Barbalho, they spend about two hours every day marketing the company online.

Blogging also worked for Jo Carter, owner of Portland, Oregon’s Physical Element, a store that carries urban fashions for women. For example, she recently received two calls from people in New York who were interested in purchasing a particular coat that she had mentioned in her blog.
When it comes to writing a blog, Carter says, business owners should be sure to update it periodically. She added that blogging is easy and helps move you higher up in the search on websites like Google. “Search engines for some reason tend to find my blog posts more effectively than they find my store website,” she said. Part of the reason for this is that Google periodically checks a website’s update activity. The more a website is updated, the higher it’s ranked.
Posting comments on other blogs may also help to increase awareness of your own blog or company. Many bloggers will visit the blogs of people who leave comments. You can also include a link to your business’s website with your comment and increase traffic to your site, especially on sites like Google, which rely on links to determine a site’s ranking.

In addition, some of your more popular blog entries could be effective traffic generators if you list them on social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Reddit, or StumbleUpon. When users of such sites find links they enjoy, they add them to their accounts to file for later reading or to share with other users. Many weblogs and news sites now list shortcuts to social bookmarking sites with every article. If the entry is popular enough, the resulting traffic could generate massive publicity for your website and your business. Remember, content is king.

E-Mail Newsletters

In order to stay ahead of her competition, Carter remains in regular contact with her customers through an e-mail newsletter. “That has really given me an amazing return on my very small investment,” she said. Sending out an e-mail newsletter helps bring in a lot of her regular customers by reminding them to come in and check out the newest fashion arrivals. “About two to three days after I send out an e-mail newsletter, I’ll usually have a noticeable increase in sales,” she said. She also came up with an idea to attach a printable coupon for select merchandise to the e-mail newsletter, which is helping to reduce her inventory of items that will be phased out in 2008.
When using an e-newsletter, Carter suggests, you should only send it once a month so as not to bombard customers with e-mail. Also, she says, keep it quick, informative, and to the point. “Yes, it is about your business, but you should make it relevant to your customers and what they get out of doing business with you,” Carter says. “Make sure you put a personal touch on it as well. As a small business, you have the advantage of being more friendly with your customers.”

Marketing your business on the Web through social networking is a new twist on finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. The more places you have your needles, the more easily people will be able to find your business. With thousands of possible Web marketing techniques and tools available to business owners, it’s important to figure out what works best for each individual.

“Marketing your business online is not terribly time consuming and it is an inexpensive way to get noticed,” Carter said. “I’ve spent zero dollars on my Web efforts and the return that I’ve gotten has been tremendous.”

10 Ways to Improve Your Website's Ranking

Studies have shown that the higher a website appears in the search results, the more users will visit that site. Search engine optimization has proven to be a useful tool in the world of Web 2.0. It helps to improve the volume and quality of traffic to a website from search engines by using natural or organic (non-paid) search results.
  1. Register your domain with major search engines. ABC members get listed on 40 directories as a benefit.
  2. Keep your content fresh as it can help improve your rankings.
  3. In order to be included in local searches, include your location in your text.
  4. Make sure that your keyword phrase is included in the links to your site and within your site.
  5. Focus on search phrases instead of just using single keywords.
  6. The quickest way to get a new website listed is to use another quality site to link to it.
  7. Google Maps has added a useful new feature for placing your company in local listings. Simply enter your company’s information at google.com/local/add for instant online visibility.
  8. Use your keyword phrases as the link to build a network of quality “backlinks,” or incoming links to your website.
  9. If your pages are mainly in JavaScript, put text links somewhere on the page for spiders to follow.
  10. Including short, helpful, and informative articles on your website can help bring targeted traffic to your site.

 

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