Would my business profit from having a presence on the World Wide Web; if so, how can it be done most effectively from a functional as well as a cost standpoint?

Increasingly, small businesses are including the use of the internet as a vital part their marketing strategies.  Surveys show that over 80% are connected to the internet and well over half have active web sites.  An Internet presence makes sense even if your business does not transact business over the internet.  Business can be conducted over the internet with a full scale catalog of products with illustrations, color choices, prices and payment alternatives. Alternatively, it can also be used to gather information about customers including demographics and needs.  Or, it can be a very powerful communications tool that sells your company’s message about itself, about its products and about its services. In the offline world, it can be compared to either a printed brochure describing a company and its products or a merchandise catalog from which customers select and buy items.

Here’s what it takes to make Internet marketing an integral part of your marketing plan:

  • website-the words and graphics potential customers view.  This can be as simple as an online brochure or as complex as a catalog from which customers select and buy merchandise including payment.  Cost can be minimized by building the website yourself or using one of the many firms that offer templates that you simply fill in.  The cost is in a range of $200. Google “diy website” for a list of providers.  A good information site iswww.diyestores.com.    Complex sites with multiple pages and payment capabilities are more expensive, $1000+. These are probably best done by a local professional.  Look in the yellow pages under, “Internet Web Site Design and Development” or contact your ad agency or IT professional.  Your SCORE Counselor may also have information about developers.  If you want to develop a website on your own, and many do, Microsoft has training at, “Web Development for Beginners”, http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/beginner/default.aspx .  Also go towww.seamoz.com  or www.recommendedwebtools.com for a list of internet development tools.  Or, your hosting site may offer web site development at a reduced price.

Whether you build it or have it built, your web site should meet these five criteria in order to maximize its effectiveness: (1) It must deliver what it promises. A person querying a search engine expects to receive abundant information from the sites that they “hit”. (2) It must load quickly.  Fancy pictures and graphics won’t impress if the potential customers don’t stick around long enough for them to load. (3) Contact information must be easy to find.  Make sure you include the physical address (reassurance that you are a real business), all of your phone and fax numbers and web site and e-mail addresses.  (4) Update the site frequently.  People want to see fresh, not stale, sites.(5)  Provide for interaction such as customer feedback, forms to fill out, a notice to bookmark the site before they leave and, of course, the opportunity to send an e-mail directly from the site.

  • host for your website.  It has to have a place to reside and most small businesses do not invest in the computer horsepower and communications infrastructure necessary to support an active web site.  Web hosting facilities are inexpensive ranging from $4 to $8 per month.  And, if you use a firm such as Go Daddy, www.godaddy.com, and register your domain name with them, your hosting may be free.
  • Domain name registration.  Once you have selected the name of your website or domain, you must register it in order to ensure that it is unique.  Google, “domain registration cheap” for a list of registrants.  The fees vary but are quite modest although they are for specific time periods, not forever.

Once you have a website, you must position it so that it has the broadest exposure to potential customers and the search engines they use such as Google, Yahoo, MSN,  BING and ASK.  This is accomplished through search engine optimization (SEO) or keyword selection or one can buy “pay per click ads”, (PPC) or “Pay for Inclusion” (PFI) listings in website directories.  PPC has the advantage of fixing the cost of website usage in order to provide better budget control.  Again, you can do this yourself with help from online sources such as, diyestores, www.diyestores.com orwww.seomoz.com. Or you can have it done professionally.  It may be included in the cost of the website development if you use a professional for that.

Locally, the Evansville Courier Press offers search engine marketing programs at three levels, bronze, silver and gold.  They work with clients to select 40 key words to maximize the number of “hits” on your web site and target the cities where you want to reach customers.  At the lowest level, you pick one of the search engines from a choice of Google, Yahoo, MSN or ASK, at the second level you pick two and at the third you get all of them.  Prices range from $200-$499 per month at the lowest level, $500-$1,499/ mo. for the second level and $1,500-$4,999 for the third.  Within these ranges, allowable hits are 100-250, 250-750 and 750-2,500.  There is no setup fee with a 12 month minimum agreement, a $75 fee for six months and $125 for three months. Contact, www.courierpress.com.

Be sure that you are promoting your website at every opportunity.  The address should be on everything that is printed in your business, business cards, letterheads, flyers, promotional items such as pens, balloons, T-shirts, writing pads, etc., etc., etc.  And, on every Email that leaves your business (it can be on a template).

Measure the effectiveness of your web site.  There are multiple methods for doing this but the simplest is to record the number of hits to your web site, recorded by your provider, and compare those numbers to your incremental sales to a similar period before you had a web site. 

A research firm reports that, “E-mail is the single most effective electronic tool for strengthening customer relationships.”  Uses include responding to warranty requests, or confirming shipments, directing customers to a particular page of your web site or they may lead to a phone conversation from a customer service rep to respond to more complicated issues.

The instant access of e-mail can be a double edged sword.  When a customer sends an e-mail, he/she expects fast turnaround on the receiver’s part.  So establish standards for answering e-mails just like you do phone calls.  Prompt responses capture a customer’s attention, loyalty and orders.

Be aware of key e-mail functions. Multiple Personalities involves setting up different e-mail accounts for specific brands, locations, projects, etc. which facilitates routing to the proper person and archiving e-mails by function. Filterscreate sub categories in your mailbox so that mail is automatically deposited in, say, each client’s project slot. In-boxes. Even if you don’t use filters, you can still build archives of e-mails by topic or customer or project. Templates, or, stationery lets you create boilerplate messages for mass mailing. Auto-respond provides for bouncing back a canned answer to a general e-mail such as a “I’m not here” message. Embedded links transport customers directly to sites you include in your e-mail like your latest and greatest widget.

Professional e-mail services such as Constant Contact create professional e-mails with a multiplicity of templates to promote new products or services, create newsletters, make announcements and other uses. They manage the address lists, track and report results and compare your results with other users.  The service provides for unsubscribing which lets your customers know they are using a legitimate service.  There are no setup fees for lists under 25,000 names. Fees are: $15/mo. for up to 500 names, 501-2,500 names costs $30.00 month and costs are graduated up to 10,000 to 25,000 names at $150/mo.

AAlAlthough they will not be explored here, there are other internet marketing tactics which can be quite effective for small businesses including:

  • Banner advertising--the placement of banner ads on a website for a fee.
  • Online press releases.
  • Blog marketing--posting announcements or comments in your own blog or posting your URL (website address) on another blog.
  • Article marketing--writing articles about your business and having them published online.

And, don’t forget to ask your SCORE Counselor for the booklet, “How to Really Market on the Internet.”

Marketing on the Internet FAQ