Posted on September 23, 2010
When I first started writing for The Virginia Gazette in 1998, the Web was a giant mystery. Almost 13 years later, it's still a mystery for most! With the emergence of Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, Google, Linkedin, and a host of other sites, getting started with online marketing seems more daunting than ever. Yet, as consumers flock to the Web daily to research local products and services, visibility for your business via the Internet literally spells success or failure. Bottom line: online marketing is NOT optional anymore and you need every one of these 7 pillars to succeed, especially in a local market.A Website You Control
You must operate with your own website which enables you to make basic changes to it yourself, preferably right through your web browser. Waiting for a "webmaster" to update text and pictures does not qualify as a smart use of your time or money. WordPress, an open-source (free) publishing platform, makes an excellent choice for managing and organizing virtually any size website.Google Maps
Google now stands alone as the "900 lb. Gorilla" of the online search world. However, most don't realize that "Google Maps" is the most basic component of local online marketing with Google. Get all the details at http://Google.com/places/. This tool is one of the fastest ways to get found in Google and, best of all... it's free!Basic SEO
SEO stands for "search engine optimization" - which means making your website relevant when someone searches for your business name or terms related to what you sell. Building all the content, information, and text on your site around a central theme is the #1 thing you can do to increase your chances of ranking well in Google and other search engines.
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Make Value-Added Offers
Most people don't make offers on their websites. Their web pages look like everyone else's and say basically the same things. You must make offers on your site that spur people to action. Offer a discount or faster service. Give an incentive to come in today. Most importantly: make your offers big, bold and obvious on your site while giving people a reason to do business with you right now!Drive Traffic
You won't make a dime with your website if the right people don't see it. The fastest way to drive traffic is to buy it, specifically with the Google AdWords pay-per-click program. Pay-per-click means you only pay when someone clicks your "sponsored" ad on the search engine listings, and Google's AdWords is the largest pay-per-click advertising network. However, make sure you set up a "geo-targeted" campaign when starting out so only people in your local area see your ads (instead of wasting time and money showing your ads to people who could never patronize your local business).Local List Building
Building up a local following you communicate with using online tools rates one of the smartest and most cost-effective things every local business can do. Whether through email, text, Twitter or Facebook (or some new tool), communicating with a targeted group and providing value-added information and offers can bring huge rewards. One coupon with the right offer to the right audience can turn a ho-hum Thursday into a blockbuster sales day.Consistent Follow-Up
The biggest online marketing mistake I see people make is NOT following up with prospects and customers. Use email and other communication tools to keep in contact with your prospects and customers and give them reasons to do business with you (by making offers) while providing useful information they want. As a wise man once said, "The fortune is always made in the repeat business."
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