Small Businesses: Maximize Your Web Exposure

Word’s out: The Internet’s a vital marketing tool for small businesses.

OK, so word has actually been out for some time now. But many small businesses are only just starting to get it.

This according to Interland, a Web-hosting and online services firm dealing with small and medium-sized businesses. The company just released a report entitled, “Business Barometer of Online Activities.” It’s based on a February survey of small businesses nationwide. Respondents were asked to select three marketing tools, online or off-, that are “critical in driving business.” The findings identified a distinct shift in small-business mentality.

Once offline solutions, often deemed cheaper and easier to implement, got the majority of small business marketing dollars. Now there’s a “clear preference for online marketing tools over traditional marketing methods.” According to the study, Web sites topped the list in order of importance, followed by search engine keywords and offline community relations. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed said they utilize email marketing, compared with 22 percent who rely on direct mail.

Only 14 percent of participants said they advertise in magazines; 12 percent in the yellow pages; 6 percent via radio; and 5 percent in newspapers. Despite recent efforts, the importance of Web banners was deemed very low, tied with outdoor advertising at a mere 4 percent. Print coupons came in dead last.

When asked to rate the importance of online marketing tools to the success of their businesses in general, nearly 99.5 percent said having an “online identity” is very or somewhat important. Sixty-two percent support online promotions such as search engine optimization (SEO), keyword advertising, and email marketing.

Acknowledging the importance of Internet media and establishing an online presence is a good start for increasing a business’s success. But how many businesses are honestly maximizing the medium? Unknowingly, many small businesses are guilty of making a crucial mistake in online marketing: They assume when they have an “online presence,” their work with the Web is done.

Unfortunately for this faction, the Web is constantly evolving. The rules of online marketing change daily. You may feel you’re ahead of the game if you’ve had a Web site since 2000. When was the last time you updated that site to achieve better search engine rankings? Are you getting the most out of your paid search placements? Here are some tips on how small businesses can maximize Web exposure.

Ask an Expert

No matter how much research you do, you can always benefit from an expert — and objective — opinion. Locate an agency or Web development firm that caters to businesses like yours. Arrange for a consultation on your site. Many firms will evaluate it for free and even offer suggestions for improving it.

Pump Up Keyword Campaigns

This same advice applies where search engine marketing (SEM) is concerned. You may be content with the results you’ve garnered in the past. But if response rates have plateaued or you need an extra boost, ask an expert to improve your campaign.

Can’t afford a long-term agency relationship? Work instead with a specialized firm for a few months. Keep a watchful eye on their copywriting and placement techniques. You’ll come away with valuable knowledge to apply at your own pace.

Get Trendy

Small businesses have an advantage over their corporation counterparts: Incorporating and implementing new site features is much easier. When you don’t have a lengthy approval process to bog you down, look to new technology trends, such as blogs and live chat customer service, to spice up your online space.

Branch Out

So your online advertising techniques are proving successful? Now’s the time to expand your campaign. Consider incorporating paid placements on additional search engines or trying something completely new. Use the knowledge you’ve gained to make the most of new placements. You’ve always got your proven buys to fall back on.

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