Online Marketing Costs a Fortune. Or Does It?

Nobody likes to admit the industry she works in has elements of duplicity, but I discovered as much about online marketing recently. Listening to the radio the other day, I heard an ad for a Web hosting service. In an effort to promote the company’s professional Web design services, the ad featured a small business owner lamenting the “daunting” costs of building a Web site. He couldn’t afford the “thousands of dollars” it takes to get a Web presence, he said. After all, he didn’t even have any “IT guys.”

Unfurling my brow, I thought, “And another online marketing myth lives on.”

Our industry has been struggling with this issue for years. We suffer from a knowledge gap. Business culture seems either highly educated in the ways of the Web or radically uninformed. Companies either are interactive media trailblazers or don’t even have a Web site to speak of. Regrettably, ads like the one above only perpetuate online marketing misconceptions that stunt business growth across the country.

Specialists do their best to spread the word that online marketing is accessible to everyone, from Nike to the corner cobbler. You don’t have to spend $50,000 to create a basic corporate site or to promote it. For every business we convert, however, a barrage of marauders is waiting, ready to tout the difficulties and dangers involved in taking online marketing into your own hands.

The good news for businesses is we’re no longer living in the ’90s, when consensus was the Web got its name by being a tangle of complexities. Today, the medium is as much self-serve as an ATM machine or a Chinese buffet.

If you wouldn’t pay a guy 10 grand to pass you some chow mein, listen up.

Myth 1: Only Web Design Pros Can Create a Professional-Looking Site

You may not “get” a Web design program such as Dreamweaver (or even know it exists), but that doesn’t mean you can’t establish a respectable Web presence overnight without spending a small fortune. Microsoft FrontPage, which comes bundled with some editions of Microsoft Office, is as easy to use as Word. Once you’ve purchased a domain name, hosting companies such as HostSave will walk you through the process of uploading your site.

If your business requires a more elaborate Web presence, consider approaching a local community college and hiring a Web design student to do the job. Not only will he be eager for the experience, you’ll have a supervisor in his teacher. Your site is likely to get some good community exposure through the school.

Myth 2: Rich Media Content Can’t Be Created In-House

Tell that to the thousands of bloggers who have enhanced their sites with online video. With their inexpensive software, companies such as Serious Magic are making it easy for amateur publishers to incorporate video footage in their sites.

Multimedia search engines such as AOL’s Singingfish, Yahoo Video Search, and Google Video make it even easier for potential clients to find your promotional footage. Whether you use it to publicize clips from your last investors’ meeting or to educate consumers via a product demo, online video is a professional marketing tool at a proletarian price.

Myth 3: Online Marketing Costs a Fortune

Those familiar with paid search buys will recognize the absurdity of this myth, but they should also know there are plenty of equally affordable opportunities to be had. A blog, which usually costs from zero to $15 per month, will not only put you in touch with your customers online but also help boost your search engine rankings. (Google looks kindly upon frequently updated sites.) Think of it as online advertising without the need for creative developers and campaign managers — or the costs associated with employing them.

Those new to the Web business may be easy prey for service vendors, but don’t let yourself be duped. The Web is a smorgasbord of marketing opportunities. Help yourself.

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