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Getting the basics of online marketing right

June 25, 2009 by Alan Gleeson

The growth in the use of the Internet in recent years has led to a huge shift in marketing activities to the online space. This article explains some of the key things for you to focus on to help you market effectively online. Secure that domain name early. The natural starting point is the creation of a website. Once you start your business it is important to secure the domain name in the markets you intend to compete in. We at Palo Alto Software, Inc and Palo Alto Software Ltd have lots of domain names ranging from PaloAlto.com (global), PaloAlto.co.uk (U.K.), and PaloAlto.ie (Ireland). These help ensure that prospective customers can find us easily by typing our name directly into a Web browser.

There are numerous ways you can build a website, from doing it yourself using available software tools, to hiring website specialists. Regardless of the method chosen you need to be completely clear on the main purpose of the website. Is it to sell products or to generate leads? Once the primary purpose is clear, you can then decide on the layout, alongside the look and feel.

Ensure your website is optimised

Given the hundreds of thousands of websites out there, it is worth reviewing a number to get a feel for the type of design and user interface you would like. Finally, when it comes to a website it needs to be ‘search-engine friendly’. This means that searches initiated from the likes of Google (using repetitive software, called ‘bots’) can find your site, scan it and identify the keywords associated with the website. Many firms offer Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services which are designed to help you achieve high rankings on the search engines, such as Yahoo! and Google. Most of the techniques they employ are widely known so you could choose to do it yourself. However, be aware: anyone promising top place listings on Google should be treated with caution. There are techniques (so-called black hat techniques) which can be used to game the system – however, Google has been known to punish sites known to be using such techniques, as BMW® found, to its cost, when Google delisted them in 2006.

As it takes time for a new website to get indexed by the search engines, it is likely that traffic will be low at the start. New sites tend not to feature in organic search returns for some time, but there are ways to drive traffic to your site using some of the methods described below.

Use Web analytics to improve your site

Once you have set up the domain name and site, you will want to understand how many users you are attracting, where they are coming from and how they are behaving on your site. Google Analytics is the most popular tool to manage this. It is available free from Google, easy to implement and even easier to use. If you want to see where people are going on your site, tools such as Crazy Egg® will help you improve the design of your site by showing you where people are clicking and where they are not.

Once the basics are in place it is now a case of creating awareness of the existence of your site and generating traffic to the site.

Get traffic to your site on day one

The quickest way to get traffic to a website is signing up for Google AdWords’ Pay-per-click (PPC) service. In the U.K. the vast majority of Web searches are via Google so this is the best one to focus on. This service lets you create adverts that appear when people search for certain keywords. You then pay according to each click you receive (hence the name ‘Pay-per click’). The main attraction with this option is that it is a highly targeted form of advertising, and you only pay when the prospect clicks on your advert and lands on your website.

Create unique landing pages

You need to decide where you want to bring the prospect when they click. Dropping users onto a homepage can be confusing, so you need to create a number of landing pages that are highly relevant to both the search term and the AdWord copy. For example, if a user searches for ‘marketing plan’ and the advertising copy is for Marketing Plan Pro® then the landing page needs to feature Marketing Plan Pro prominently. The beauty of running Analytics in the background is that you can measure conversions so you can identify which combinations of advert copy and landing pages are the most successful. After that it’s a case of testing, testing and more testing. A/B testing is a popular method where 50% of the audience is randomly assigned to see page A, and 50% to see page B. Whichever page results in the most conversions ‘wins’ and that then becomes the new default page.

Get websites to link to you

One well-known component of the Google algorithm that decides on the attractiveness of your website (which then correlates to a higher search ranking) is the number of back links to your site. The more sites that link to your website, the better, particularly if the linking site is an academic or government-owned site.  Each link is considered a ‘vote’ and votes from impartial sites such as academic ones are deemed to carry more weight.

Seek a presence on high-traffic sites

It may be possible for you to feature on larger portal sites by offering to support them with either new or fresh content or special offers. Steer clear of anyone offering you a tenancy agreement, e.g. you pay £1,000 per month to feature on a third-party website. These offers mean you bear all the risk and they rarely, if ever, deliver any meaningful traffic. Similarly, spending money on banners and buttons is not in vogue like it used to be – for good reason. PPC marketing is where your budget should be going – not on risky placements on websites.

Blogging is not all it’s cut out to be

A number of companies set up blogs to enable them to communicate with interested parties and customers on a more informal basis. Blogs are simply basic websites which contain a list of posts or news stories by an author, typically about a specialist topic. While they are easy to set up and maintain, they do place a demand on the blog owner or blogger to constantly update them. If you do not think you have the time to post news stories daily it is probably best to avoid the temptation of creating a blog. Other, less demanding forms of social media include placing comments on forums and participating in news groups.

The above activities should give you a flavour of some of the types of marketing activities you can undertake online. Others, such as issuing online press releases and creating newsletters, can also help you drive traffic to your websites. From there it’s a case of ensuring the design and offer are compelling enough to entice the user to buy from you, assuming that is the primary purpose of your website.

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