One of the most ubiquitous questions new business owners ask is, "how do I promote my business?". It's certainly a difficult question and one I've asked myself many times. Internet marketing is a very lucrative market with many people making their livings by claiming to know the answer to this question. While I don't want to make any sweeping comments if you do get caught up in all the buzz and hype then at least exercise some caution. There are a lot of less than reputable people out there pushing sales of their latest scam tactics for some quick money from people looking for get-rich-quick schemes. Just remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
I intend to turn this into a small series featuring different avenues of advertising an online business along with my personal experiences of them. I've only been in this game for a year and my business is still quite small so I'm not claiming to be an expert but if anyone's interested in starting or advertising their own small business then you might enjoy the read just to get a feel for what each tactic is like without trying to be sold anything.
Before I start this series I think it would be prudent to lay down some basic golden rules of advertising which apply no matter what you're advertising or how you're advertising it.
- Know your audience - Knowing which demographic your products or services are aimed at can dramatically alter how successful your advertising campaign is. For instance, if you sell dog food and supplies then there's no point targeting people who don't own dogs; it's simply a waste of your time and money.
- Know your products/services - Knowing what your business does sounds like an obvious step but it's a very important one. Some specialist knowledge of what you do can not only help identify your audience but also give you a leg up on the competition.
- Know your competition - Always keep an eye on the competition and see how you can improve on them, such as offering superior customer service, a wider variety of goods or cheaper prices. Always keep up with your competitors and ideally pioneer new sales strategies to stay ahead of the crowd.
Advertising on websites
I think perhaps the most common form of advertising for a web-based business is through online advertisements placed on other websites. There is certainly something to be said for this method as most websites nowadays feature ads run by either the website themselves or a third party ad server, Google Adwords being one of the most common. There are quite a few ways to go about this and I will go over each of the different methods I've tried.
The first thing you can do is attempt to exchange links with similar websites. If you sell video game products, for example, see if you can place reciprocal links on fan pages. Some of the brand products I sell have links to a fan site for that brand on the product pages and in return they link to me. This is a very mutually beneficial set up and more often than not can be done for free. This allows you to reach an audience you already know is interested in that brand and they get visitors who are interested in buying the product and want to know more. It's a win-win situation.
There are a lot of similar services to Google Adwords which all work in a similar fashion and so this applies to most of them, but I have only actually used Adwords myself. This is basic online advertising where you pay for your text or pictorial ad to be displayed on Google searches and third party websites using Google Adsense when users search for related keywords.
It is a very powerful and complex tool, one I'll admit I'm still trying to get to grips with myself. A lot of people make money simply teaching people how to use it. The idea is in short you pick keywords and phrases and then bid how much you're willing to pay relative to where your ad is displayed and each time someone searches for them/clicks on your ad. I have been unsuccessful with my ventures into Google Adwords but I've heard it has really helped some people generate a lot of business. Be very careful with the keywords you use and take note of the stats Google gives you such as how popular the terms are. If you've any tips for successfully using Google Adwords please feel free to comment below as I'm still learning myself.
This is along the same lines as Google Adwords but in my opinion is a lot simpler to use. You can very easily control for demographics so if you know your audience you can really target them and I have used this successfully myself. Facebook allows you to generate an ad (which is limited to a picture and small block of text) and then choose when to display it based on certain conditions like age brackets, gender, marital status and likes. So say if you sell Microsoft products, you can choose to only display your ads to people who've said their interests include 'Microsoft'. This really cuts away your ads audience to just the people who are interested in your products/services and helpfully it even displays exactly how many people meet your specifications and so how many people your ads can reach.
This is a service I recommend giving a go. I've had success with it, there's a huge audience and it's pretty competitively priced.
Independent ad servers
If you're in a niche market and don't fancy going to a generic ad server like Google Adwords or Facebook ads you can always look for advertising companies in your particular market niche. For instance, if you sell video games you can browse video game related websites and you'll probably find if they're not using their own ad service they're using one dedicated to gaming. This again separates the wheat from the chaff and allows you to better reach your target audience.
It's hard to give a great deal of advice when it comes to these services because they are all obviously different. You will have to do your research as some may be more expensive than generic alternatives and some may be cheaper. What and how much control you have over your ads is the most important thing.
As you can see there is a central theme to many of these methods and that is simply: know your audience. It seems obvious but it's a hard nut to crack. Once you do though and people who are interested in your products/services are aware of your business you'll soon find yourself with a growing customer base. They key is giving the people what they want. The trick is finding the right people in the first place.
Next time: social networking.