Good Marketing Ideas
Online Shoestring Marketing

Online Shoestring Marketing

Novice guide to inexpensive small business online marketing ideas.

Novice guide to inexpensive small business online marketing ideas.
Marketing can be simple and fun!

1. Relationships, Not Lists

I'm a bit of a radical, I do not believe that an opt-in list is an essential online marketing tool. I do believe that it is a helpful tool for SOME businesses, and that if it is used correctly, that it can increase your earning power. But let's make one thing absolutely clear (plug your ears if you've heard me say this before!).

The Money is NOT in the List! The BUSINESS is in RELATIONSHIPS.

To state that the money is in the list depersonalizes your customers, makes them an object to get gain from, and gives you a completely false impression of what an email list is to be used for. The statement refers to the mistaken belief that some internet marketers like to perpetuate, that you cannot run a successful business without a large opt-in email list. This is a false premise to begin with.

Yes, an email list CAN enhance some businesses. It is a waste of time for others. And it is always a waste of time if you have such an inconsiderate attitude about it, because you will never see your way clear to using it in a way that your customer actually appreciates if you think of them as a piggy bank, instead of as an individual with needs and desires which you can help to meet in an honest and genuine manner.

I cannot tell you how many email subscriptions I have canceled due to a selfish attitude on the part of the publisher. I could care less about what you want to sell me. I don't care about your latest thing that you want me to buy when you just sent me an email three days earlier about some other latest thing that you wanted me to buy then. And I REALLY don't care (in fact, it ticks me off) when you tell me about something, then remind me a day later, then warn me two days later that it is almost gone, then send me more warnings that I'll miss it if I don't get it now! I didn't want it the first time, and I am even less interested the fifth time!

To use a list properly, you need to use it to build relationships. Let them know who you are, and that you have hopes and dreams that they can identify with. Drop a note at the bottom that a specific item is on sale, or available, or tell them where they can find something related to what you want them to know, but do NOT make that the focus of the email! Give them something they WANT to hear - knowledge, instruction, humor, entertainment, etc. Give them a little piece of yourself that enhances their life in some way. You then are beginning to build a reciprocal relationship with them. If you want something from them, you must demonstrate a willingness to give first. And you must give them a reason to trust you - your information must be reliable and useful, or you must show constancy in being there on a regular basis even if it appears that you are not getting anything in return.

Your email list consists of people. You should feel that they are people that you care about, and want to help. That you want to make them smile. That if it were their child's birthday, you'd want to tell them to have a great day. If you don't feel that way, then you'll not ever realize the potential of a list, because you'll offend without having a clue how you even did it.

A list has to be reciprocal. It is not just for your benefit. It is primarily for THEIR benefit, or it won't be read. They'll buy from you when they care about you, trust you, and feel that you understand them.

If you have a business that can benefit from a list, then make the signup page accessible from every page in your site. Put a Privacy Policy link on the signup page, or print the privacy policy below the signup form so that anyone who wants to know how you intend to use their information will be reassured.

Put a notice on each newsletter that the email can be forwarded to anyone as long as it is intact. Put an invitation to authors for content, and an invitation for others to use your content as long as they leave your signature line in place. These elements won't have a huge effect, but they will lay the groundwork for growth beyond the confines of the list itself, giving it just a bit of viral potential.

Whether you choose plain text or HTML is a matter of preference, and of targeting it to your specific audience. Either way, you'll want to lay out the issue intelligently, and make sure that there is a listing of articles at the top of the page so that impatient readers can see immediately whether or not there is anything they need to read - if you DON'T put that, then impatient readers will just delete your email! It is an act of courtesy to tell them how to find what they want quickly.

Put ads between the articles, and at the end. Don't break articles with ads, people rarely click on them anyway if they are interested in the article, and if they are not interested in the article, they'll not get that far. Ads should be there for those who want to see them, but easy to scan past for those that might be annoyed by them. Some people disagree with me, and say that you should put ads where they cannot be ignored, but for many audiences, this is a fatal tactic, as the only people then who will read your emails at all are those who don't mind being bugged all the time. They won't necessarily be the quality readers who will convert to valuable customers!

Keep your mailings considerate, and give the reader what THEY want first. Work what YOU want in around them.

2. Relationships, Not Lists

I'm a bit of a radical, I do not believe that an opt-in list is an essential online marketing tool. I do believe that it is a helpful tool for SOME businesses, and that if it is used correctly, that it can increase your earning power. But let's make one thing absolutely clear (plug your ears if you've heard me say this before!).

The Money is NOT in the List! The BUSINESS is in RELATIONSHIPS.

To state that the money is in the list depersonalizes your customers, makes them an object to get gain from, and gives you a completely false impression of what an email list is to be used for. The statement refers to the mistaken belief that some internet marketers like to perpetuate, that you cannot run a successful business without a large opt-in email list. This is a false premise to begin with.

Yes, an email list CAN enhance some businesses. It is a waste of time for others. And it is always a waste of time if you have such an inconsiderate attitude about it, because you will never see your way clear to using it in a way that your customer actually appreciates if you think of them as a piggy bank, instead of as an individual with needs and desires which you can help to meet in an honest and genuine manner.

I cannot tell you how many email subscriptions I have canceled due to a selfish attitude on the part of the publisher. I could care less about what you want to sell me. I don't care about your latest thing that you want me to buy when you just sent me an email three days earlier about some other latest thing that you wanted me to buy then. And I REALLY don't care (in fact, it ticks me off) when you tell me about something, then remind me a day later, then warn me two days later that it is almost gone, then send me more warnings that I'll miss it if I don't get it now! I didn't want it the first time, and I am even less interested the fifth time!

To use a list properly, you need to use it to build relationships. Let them know who you are, and that you have hopes and dreams that they can identify with. Drop a note at the bottom that a specific item is on sale, or available, or tell them where they can find something related to what you want them to know, but do NOT make that the focus of the email! Give them something they WANT to hear - knowledge, instruction, humor, entertainment, etc. Give them a little piece of yourself that enhances their life in some way. You then are beginning to build a reciprocal relationship with them. If you want something from them, you must demonstrate a willingness to give first. And you must give them a reason to trust you - your information must be reliable and useful, or you must show constancy in being there on a regular basis even if it appears that you are not getting anything in return.

Your email list consists of people. You should feel that they are people that you care about, and want to help. That you want to make them smile. That if it were their child's birthday, you'd want to tell them to have a great day. If you don't feel that way, then you'll not ever realize the potential of a list, because you'll offend without having a clue how you even did it.

A list has to be reciprocal. It is not just for your benefit. It is primarily for THEIR benefit, or it won't be read. They'll buy from you when they care about you, trust you, and feel that you understand them.

If you have a business that can benefit from a list, then make the signup page accessible from every page in your site. Put a Privacy Policy link on the signup page, or print the privacy policy below the signup form so that anyone who wants to know how you intend to use their information will be reassured.

Put a notice on each newsletter that the email can be forwarded to anyone as long as it is intact. Put an invitation to authors for content, and an invitation for others to use your content as long as they leave your signature line in place. These elements won't have a huge effect, but they will lay the groundwork for growth beyond the confines of the list itself, giving it just a bit of viral potential.

Whether you choose plain text or HTML is a matter of preference, and of targeting it to your specific audience. Either way, you'll want to lay out the issue intelligently, and make sure that there is a listing of articles at the top of the page so that impatient readers can see immediately whether or not there is anything they need to read - if you DON'T put that, then impatient readers will just delete your email! It is an act of courtesy to tell them how to find what they want quickly.

Put ads between the articles, and at the end. Don't break articles with ads, people rarely click on them anyway if they are interested in the article, and if they are not interested in the article, they'll not get that far. Ads should be there for those who want to see them, but easy to scan past for those that might be annoyed by them. Some people disagree with me, and say that you should put ads where they cannot be ignored, but for many audiences, this is a fatal tactic, as the only people then who will read your emails at all are those who don't mind being bugged all the time. They won't necessarily be the quality readers who will convert to valuable customers!

Keep your mailings considerate, and give the reader what THEY want first. Work what YOU want in around them.

3. Topic Focused Content for the Search Engines

It took me six years to realize how powerful this tactic is in Search Engine Optimization! When you are learning a lot of your skills through observation and trial and error, you don't always connect the things that work well, until someone points out to you that it is a factor!

My sites have always indexed well, and they have always drawn good traffic in deep interior pages. For years, they have received more traffic to individual pages inside than they have to the home page.

It took some time to figure out why though - I mean, when you learn a new skill, implement it, and see that it makes a difference, you connect it up. But when you have always done something a certain way, it can take longer to figure out how much of an effect it is actually having!

I have always designed sites in a logical manner, with a single focused topic per page. Sometimes the page was pretty long, because the topic was complex and not easily subdivided, but I find it easier to build a site in this way.

When I build a site, I start with thinking about how I want the visitor to be able to access the content. If there are likely to be more than 50 topics (or thereabout), then I subdivide into major categories and subcategories - I do this also if I am going to want to expand onto the site aggressively. With this site, there is not a lot of scope for expansion, and I wanted the topics to be accessible from the home page, so they are all in one place.

Anyway, I then design a layout to accommodate the link structure that I have in mind, and then I name the links and replicate the home page to form the interior pages. I can then go in, change the titles on each page, and fill in content.

Creating a site in this way keeps it logically organized for me - I write most of my content personally, so I name the links in a way that tells me what the page is going to be about. This gives the page title a keyword focus naturally. And of course, when I create the page, I automatically use a filename that will remind me what the page is about also. When I fill in the content, it just naturally contains keywords dealing with the subject at hand.

Because of how I structure a site, with categories and subcategories, or in this instance, with everything accessible from the home page, the site indexes fast. I don't generally build more than three layers deep, with content just two clicks from the home page. This means that the search engines index it fairly rapidly, and that those interior pages will begin getting traffic in their own right fairly quickly.

I never considered this to be anything other than a logical way to build a site, and a shortcut of sorts to organizing my thoughts in a way that helped me build a good site. Breaking things down into topics that could be focused on in a single page seemed logical - a person would, after all, want to learn about a topic in one sitting, and then come back later if they wanted to learn more, and they'd want those pages to break into logical information packages.

It just so happens that search engines like that too. When they go through and index those interior pages, it means that you have one page that just naturally contains a lot of keywords on a focused subject. You can easily craft a page title and header with focused keywords because that is what the page IS about. There is no need to CHOOSE which keywords are the most important, they are obvious.

This seems so intuitive to me, but I now realize that it is not intuitive to everyone. I have a client that is building a fairly complex site, and it has taken him three tries to get the topics divided logically into blocks that contained significant information in logical divisions. He is in no way a stupid man! But he was unpracticed at thinking about things in topical blocks instead of questions and answers.

Each page needs to have enough on it to justify its existence. Larger topics can be broken down, but only if they can be broken into logical sections. It is better to have a long page than it is to have two fragments that are incomplete in themselves (some designers will disagree, but a "NEXT" link isn't helpful!).

This process starts when you first build your site. But it is also helpful for marketing later, when you want more search engine traffic. Addition of an "Article Library" can help you to organize additional informational articles that can draw traffic in based on topics that are not specific product listings, but rather, information that will help people learn about choosing products or services well.

Organize by topic, and then use topics to draw traffic independently. This practice is very powerful for getting organic Search engine traffic.

4. Effective Ezine Ads

If you want to make these work, you have to do them right. There are a lot of trashy ezines out there, and a lot of obnoxious ads, which get ignored, or immediately deleted. Advertising this way won't do you any good at all.

However, finding a topically relevant, high quality, informational ezine, with a good reader base, in which you can place a well-worded and effective ad, is a different thing! This strategy can help you to place highly targeted ads that reach exactly the people you need them to.

That is both the key, and the advantage to ezine ads. Targeting makes all the difference. If you splatter ads out there in ezines that are not related to the product or service that you are marketing, you'll get little, if any, response. On the other hand, if you choose your ezine within a tight focus, to market directly to people who have an interest in what you are offering, it can be very effective.

Choosing the right ezine is more than just picking a relevant topic. Let's take cooking for example. There are people who are interested in cooking, who are interested in recipes, but who are NOT interested in buying cookbooks. There are also people who are interested in purchasing cookbooks, but who do not purchase utensils where they cannot see them.

Each ezine will attract a specific type of readers - there will be some variety within that, but half or more of them will fit a certain buyer profile. You need to find an ezine with a buyer profile that matches your own buyer profile. If you have a product for middle class people who have no time, but also have a limited budget, then you'll want to find an ezine that is enjoyed by middle class people who have no time, and a limited budget. Notice I said, "enjoyed". Not just one that gets subscribers within that target group, but one that gets read!

Subscribe to the ezine yourself. Test the quality of the issues before you advertise in it. You'll want to be sure that the ezine offers something of interest, that the topics covered relate to your product, and that it is high quality.

There are two kinds of ezines:

  1. Those that are used primarily as a marketing tool by the publisher. These will typically have ads in them that link back to the products that the publisher is marketing themselves. Ezines that feature affiliate links may be a crossover type, but often they are principally for the benefit of the goods of the publisher. This type is not good to advertise in, because its primary purpose is advertising, NOT informing.
  2. Ezines that are published for informational content. Now, these may be an extension of a website, and may promote that website some, but the primary purpose of them will be to offer a benefit to the reader. Many of these are ad-supported. People who receive free information that is good quality generally understand that either they have to pay for it, or the publication will have ads in it. Your ads can be one of the peripheral offerings in the ezine. A certain percentage of people will read the ad, and check it out.

The best ezines to advertise in are those that have ads scattered between the articles - but not too many! If articles are broken up by ads, then people tend to ignore the ad to get to the next part of the article. If the ads are between articles - a natural stopping place for readers - then they are willing to be distracted temporarily. Top of the page ads do not always perform the best - in fact, if I were to choose the location for my ad, it would be the first ad below the last article. When people finish with the ezine, they will naturally be ready to go somewhere else. But that location ONLY works in an ezine that gets read from top to bottom. Bottom of the first article is an excellent placement as well.

Many ezines now use HTML formats. This means that they can have a sidebar, or multi-column layout which accommodates more flexible ad options. When you purchase your ad, you should have some control over where it is placed. You may not be able to specify EXACTLY where it ends up, but you should be able to choose between top placement, bottom placement, sidebar placement, etc.

You can also purchase "Solo Ads". These are ads that are sent out as a separate mailing, that is not part of the regular ezine. They have an advantage and a disadvantage.

  • They are usually MUCH more expensive than a standard ad, but they are not necessarily more powerful. Pricing is based on the fact that you get the entire mailing to yourself. A well written ad can be very effective because you have the space to say as much as you need to say. That is the side that the publisher promotes.
  • The down side is that because they are not part of the regular ezine, most readers can quickly identify that the entire email is an ad. A certain percentage of them will delete it before they read more than the title. Writing an interesting title can reduce those numbers, but still, people who are in a hurry (and who isn't now?) will identify "ad", and click delete.

With the regular ezine issue, there is other information that they consider to be of value which they want, so they read the issue. With a solo ad, that value information is typically lacking, so their incentive to read is also gone. You can try a form of article marketing with a solo ad, and give information with a byline if you like, but for that to work, the article and the byline have to be carefully written.

Track your ad results, so that you will know which ads work, and which ezines deliver the most effective marketing. You have to track click throughs, and purchases, both. A high clickthrough rate is just an indicator of what people think they want. If they don't find it on your site, you'll get a lot of clicks, but no sales. Good information for you, but useless unless you can find a way to convert them to buyers once they come in. Effective ads may actually draw fewer clickers, but more purchasers! The bottom line is that a good ad will increase sales or revenue generation.

Article marketing can also be done through ezines, and there are many ezines which accept article submissions.

Ezine advertising takes intelligence, understanding of who your target market really is, and some patience in learning to do it effectively. But when it works, it can work very well.

5. Blogging as a Marketing Tool

There are definitely two sides to blogging! Some experts would have you believe that you can just create a blog in a matter of a few seconds, and that after that the hard work is over - you just have to sit back and enjoy the benefits. WRONG!

First of all, blogging CAN be a highly effective marketing tool. Second of all, it is HARD WORK. No matter how you do it!

The process runs something like this:

  1. Find your platform. Figure out which blogging tools you intend to use - you can use a service, or you can use software on your own web host. Each has an advantage, each has a disadvantage, and there is no such thing as a perfect solution. For ease of use, services win out. For flexibility, usually your own hosted software will be superior.

  2. Learn to use it. You have to learn the lingo, and you have to learn the functions and how best to use them. No choice. You can learn to be a blogging guru, or you can learn just enough to make it work, but you WILL have to learn!

  3. You can either set up automatic posts that periodically post to your blog, or you can log in and post when you choose. EITHER WAY, you STILL have to write the material, or find something to post that you have a legal right to post. You can expect this to take a significant amount of time each week.

  4. You will have to maintain a regular schedule of posting once you start. If you do not do that, then no one will bother to come by, because you won't be reliable.

  5. You have to watch the comments, and monitor activity on your blog. If you fail to do THAT, then your blog will be taken over by spammers, and any marketing advantage that it gave you will evaporate.

  6. You have to market the blog! So it gives you one more thing to market. Now, at first, blogs were easier to market than a regular website, due to high popularity, and new marketing venues that were easier to get into than website listings. HOWEVER... some of those venues are getting harder to effectively break into, and it is only a matter of time before any advantage to a blog will be buried in the masses of competition out there. That is just the nature of the web.

  7. You have to use it to market your site in an effective manner. Just HAVING one, and listing it, and posting in it is not enough! You have to provide consistent, and high quality information that people WANT. Without that, you have nothing more than a waste of your time, and a waste of everyone else's time.

  8. If you want it to be picked up and syndicated, you have to learn how to manage the functions that control that feature. And you have to keep up with the demands that it places on you.

Ok, to be very frank, I have chosen not to blog. I could do it, I have the writing skills, and an endless flow of ideas, but I do not work very well on a schedule that has to be observed daily or weekly. I just lose steam over time. So for me, blogging is not a good fit as a marketing method. For others, it is a great one though, so make your choice based on YOUR needs, and YOUR strengths, and not on some line of hype someone is feeding you to get you to buy their book on how to do it!

You don't HAVE to blog to have a successful business. Having one will not guarantee you any kind of success. Done right, they can be a powerful tool to communicate with your potential customers, and to help the pagerank of your site.

6. Printable Downloads

Printable downloads are good for specific marketing types, and as an enhancement to others. They can save you time and money, as well as make marketing materials available on demand.

There are a few circumstances in which a printable download can help a business directly:

  1. Printable catalog. For some sites, if the inventory is extensive, a printable catalog can help customers to be able to browse items offline at their leisure.

  2. Printable Brochures. For items that people might want to think over, or discuss with someone else, having a printable brochure on your website that gives an overview of product benefits can be an asset.

  3. Printable Order Forms. Some customers still prefer to order offline. Not many, but you may get a few orders from people who would otherwise not order if you have an order form that they can easily print and use.

These are all little things, and only applicable to certain business types. The real power in printable downloads comes from businesses which have affiliate programs or distributorships.

The cost of printing can then be passed on to your resellers - this is not a disservice to them, it spares them the cost of ordering them, and makes them more convenient. They can print them on demand instead of having to order them in bulk.

These items can be downloadable in a distributor only area, or affiliate area, depending on what is needed.

Items which can be used in this manner are:

  1. Business cards with a write-in spot for referral name or distributor name, OR, a business card template in a format that is common (Printshop, or Serif PagePlus which is a freely downloadable program).

  2. Brochures. Distributors can print out brochures on demand also - make sure you leave a 1/2 inch margin around the edge of the documents, so that they will print well on an inkjet printer.

  3. Price lists, policy sheets, instructional literature, and other informational documents.

In fact your entire distributor pack can be downloadable in electronic format. Alternately it can be delivered on CD, which is far more cost effective for the parent company. It passes the actual cost on to the distributor, weeds out the costs for distributors who are not serious about the business, and allows you to make your resale program available to people who are on a limited budget, but who have the energy and drive to work the business.

Printable downloads are not an asset to every business, but for some, they can prove a huge benefit, which gives convenience to customers and resellers, while reducing expenses for printing items that are not fully used.

7. Cross Linking

Another hot and controversial tactic... Cross linking refers to interlinking your own sites when you own more than one. An example of cross linking is on the right hand side of this page.

The controversy comes in when it comes to Search Engine Ranking. Do the search engines see cross linking as a subversive tactic, or do they ignore the links, or do they give importance to them?

Logically, they would be pure idiots to penalize for cross linking sites. Because ANY site owner is going to logically promote their own sites, ESPECIALLY if they have relevant topics! To not do so would be very foolish. When you have a basis for marketing leverage, you have to use it. I get a LOT of traffic to my sites that comes in from other sites that I own. I'd be stupid to not want to keep getting that traffic.

Now, there is legitimate cross linking, and cross linking that can have a negative affect. If you create doorway pages whose sole purpose is to promote the same sites over and over, then THAT is considered black hat SEO. Don't do it.

If you cross link very aggressively, with multiple references to the same page over and over on your sites, then that is also considered to be low and borderline unethical - besides which it will seriously interfere with the overall quality of your site. Don't do it.

I have over 25 sites now. Notice in the sidebar, I have only a few of those sites linked into this one. That is because I have sites on parenting, health and nutrition, and other topics which are not directly related to this site. I have listed only those sites which are relevant - understand though, that search engines are NOT good at judging relevancy, in fact they are very BAD at it. So just cross link when it enhances the value of the site you are building. For this site, the resources listed in the sidebar have value to the visitors of this site. And that is how cross linking should work.

Cross linking can help you as a valid marketing tactic. But it should always be used in a way that helps your site visitor as much as it helps you, if not more. If the links are obnoxious, get rid of them or move them. If the links are not of interest to your audience, don't put them in. If you have a general site link in a sidebar or other standard "every page" resource listing, then do not link to the home page for that site in your content - if it is appropriate and needed to make reference to a resource in that site, then link directly to the page that has that specific item or topic, not to the home page.

I have heard people say, "A friend of mine cross linked their sites and was banned by Google." The fact is, that improper cross linking might in fact cause you to be banned, but if your site is banned, it is more likely due to other factors. We have no idea of what else the "friend" was doing on their site that might have got them banned.

As with all tactics, use it in a reasonable and logical manner. Do not think that it is a tactic for manipulating search engines because it is not. It is just one more thing you do in a way that makes sense for the site you are building, because once you HAVE traffic to a site, it is reasonable to use that traffic to encourage traffic to a new site. Your reputation SHOULD be able to transfer from one thing you own to another, and search engines would, again, be stupid to penalize for that, because, after all, when Microsoft or Yahoo slaps their name on a new site, and cross links it with their old one, do they penalize for THAT? No, because those two companies have a reputation that they rightly use. Smaller businesses and bigger businesses need to be held to the same standards.

Do what is logical. You'll never be able to figure out what the search engines do or do not like, so apply some common sense and go with it. Use your own judgment about where to draw the line, and keep your site quality and visitor satisfaction at the top of the list.

8. Search Engine Optimization

SEO is an abbreviation for Search Engine Optimization. And it is big business.

What it refers to is a series of strategies, some proven, some not, which aim to make your website more visible to the search engines, help the search engine index it more accurately, and therefore give you a higher placement in the search listings (closer to page 1). The higher your rank, the more people are likely to click on your site.

The whole thing revolves around two factors:

  1. Competition – The web is fiercely competitive. When you search any give term, you may come up with millions of hits, displayed on hundreds of thousands of pages. What good does it do if your page ends up on page 862, if people are not going to look past the first three pages of hits, or 10 if they are really digging deep?
  2. Search Engine Technology – Search engines have their own rules. Some of those rules keep changing, but a few are pretty logically set and won't change. In order to optimize, you have to understand how the search engine sees and rates your page, and then help it to see your content more accurately.

Search engines see text. They do not see pretty pictures, and they mostly ignore colors (except in a few instances). No matter how gorgeous your site looks, it won't mean a thing to your ranking unless you have elements that the search engines can see and interpret correctly.

You'll hear the term “Keyword” tossed around a lot. A keyword is nothing more than a word that a person is likely to use to search for a particular topic. If you sell wide shoes, they may search “wide shoes”, “e width shoes”, “hard to find shoe sizes”, etc. Those are all keywords, which may in fact be phrases, not just words. Some people get really anal about keywords, as though the whole search engine world revolves around getting just the right ones. I have a more casual attitude, so if you are thinking it has to be hard, relax.

The other term you need to know is “pagerank”, because that is used in search engine optimization circles too. It merely means a number that the search engine gives you to determine how important your site is when weighed against others that seem to have information that is just as relevant as yours. When there are thousands of sites that seem to have relevant matching material for a search, the ones with higher pagerank get listed first.

Pagerank is determined by the search engine's evaluation of your site's popularity. It measures that popularity by how many sites out there have links to your site. The more sites you have linking back to you, the more popular they think your site is, so the higher they rank your page. Of course, in actual operations it is not that simple, but that is the theory anyway.

Search Engine Optimization involves two types of strategies:

  1. Internal strategies which focus on improving the code and content of your pages so that the search engine can “see” them better and more accurately tell what the site is about.
  2. External strategies which involve getting links back to your site to improve page ranking.

Each of these has some rules, and some strategies that you can use. Each of them has some strategies which you absolutely should NEVER use as well. And if you get nothing else from this page, PLEASE pay attention to the things you should not do, because they will not just waste your time, they can actually hurt your site's ability to get traffic.

With all the Search Engine Optimization hype out there, and all the conflicting information, some simplification is needed! It boils down to a simple rule:

If you can afford to pay for it, you don't need to be reading this. If you need to be reading this, you can do all of the most important things yourself.

The six things here are the ones that make the most difference for the least amount of effort.

  1. Create a site with good text content. This is the NUMBER ONE search engine strategy. Without good text, no matter what else you do, your site will fail. If you have to pay for something, pay for help with this. Search engines see text. They do not see images. If you create a site with a huge graphic on the home page, no meta tags, and no text, and just an image that says "click here", the search engine will have no way of knowing what your page is about! An image with text on it is NOT text. The search engine can only read text that was typed in directly on the page (or pasted in, etc). So make sure you have text on the page that tells what the page is there for. Write for PEOPLE first. Search engines second. If it is good for people, then it is more likely to be good for search engines.

    What NOT to do: Do not use "hidden text". Make the text part of the page, or the search engine will be able to tell that it is hidden, and you can be penalized for that.

  2. Use keywords in your text. Keywords are words that people think of to look for your site. If your site has a topic that people may refer to with several different sets of terms, then you need to use each one on the page in some way. A well written page will naturally use common terms anyway, so don't obsess about it. Make it clear in the first paragraph exactly what your site is about. Just explain well, and it will be good enough!

    What NOT to do: Do not pack the page with keywords! Do not misuse them in an unnatural way. Do not use words that have nothing to do with your site either. Either tactic can hurt you with the search engines, and drive off customers. Just write well, and you won't have to worry about it much!

  3. Use Alt Tags for images. Look this up in a book on HTML, or look up in your HTML editor program, since there is usually a simple way to put in an alt tag. An Alt tag is a specially coded bit of text that tells the browser to show that text if the image is not displayed. Alt tags can also help people with visual impairment to navigate a site better. A good alt tag will provide a concise description of the image, or the text on the image. Alt tags are also not a miracle fix, they are simply an easy thing to do to fine tune your site.

    What NOT to do: Do not use Alt tags that are too long. Do not use Alt tags that are misleading either, and do not pack them with keyword lists.

  4. Put in Meta Tags. Meta Tags are bits of code that are seen by the search engine and browser, but not by the site viewer. They can do a lot of things, but the two that we are concerned about are the Description and Keywords tags. A good site description will be informative, but not too long. It will describe key features using keywords. The keyword tag will contain words that tell the search engine what your site is about. Use good variety in your keywords.

    A search engine looks for text in your site. It also looks at metatags. If there are no metatags, it uses part of the text in your site for the description - this can have unpredictable results! But even if you DO have metatags, some search engines quote parts of the text. And search engines will not pay much attention to keywords if they do not correlate with the site content. Don't worry about hiring a pro to analyze them, it won't be worth it if you have good content.

    Most HTML programs have a simple way to insert Description and Keywords - sometimes under Document or Page Properties, sometimes under its own heading of Meta Tags. Put a comma between each keyword.

    What NOT to do: Do not use keywords that are not appropriate for your site. Keep your description to the point and do not be misleading with it. Do not use a metatag generator that creates 10 different kinds of metatags - some of those will introduce errors into your site. Just worry about the Description and Keywords.

  5. Use a title. This is also code behind the scenes that does not show in the page - it is the page title that shows in the top of the window of the browser. A shortcut for a site is to use a general title for the whole site, but a page title that reflects the actual page contents can be helpful. At the very least, you want one that names your site or business. Keep them short and to the point though. Use some keywords in the title, but keep them relevant and concise. Use a title that describes your business and that uses one good keyword or keyphrase. If you have to choose between your business name and a meaningful description, choose the description. This is actually the most important coding element that you can include to improve your search engine ranks.

    What NOT to do: Do not leave the title as "untitled". That helps no one. And do not name the page inaccurately, or use a title that is more than a few words or a short phrase. A title that is too long or too crammed with keywords can get your site penalized, and there isn't room to show it all anyway.

  6. Get inbound links. Inbound links are links on other people's sites that lead back to your site. Many search engines now keep track of how many other people think your site is worth linking to, and they consider that in how they rank your site. So exchange links, post to directories, and ask everyone you know to put a link on their site for you. Read more about linking in the later chapters in this book.

    What NOT to do: Do not create seven other sites and link your site in to them in the hopes of fooling the search engines into thinking your site is big. It won't work, because the age of the site also matters. Linking it into an existing sites helps, but that won't propel it to instant fame either. Do not buy "instant links", where someone promises to put your links on X number of sites overnight, those types of services do not work and will get you banned from the search engines (if you purchase text links, do so on one site at a time, on sites that will get you good traffic). Be careful what kind of traffic exchanges you participate in, some do not help rank or sales either one - who cares if you get tons of traffic if it does not help you sell anything? And watch out for popups... if your site has to have popups to get traffic, or your site appears on popups, you'll annoy your guests. When I talk about inbound links, that kind of traffic "generator" is not what I mean. I mean permanent links on other people's reputable sites. Stay away from Free Classifieds, or Free For All link sites, they get you lots of spam and no marketing advantage, but they CAN hurt your site. Each inbound link is a drop in a bucket. You need to aggressively pursue legitimate links, and not get sidetracked by hype.

There are a whole collection of other things that are not quite as critical, and for the sake of completeness, I 'll list a few:

  • Search engines do not like Javascript or Flash, so avoid those unless you have a major reason for using them. Large businesses can use them, because they can afford to market around them. Small startups cannot.
  • If you have a php website, make sure the pages can actually get indexed by the search engines.
  • A domain name with one keyword or keyphrase in it can help a tiny bit, but don't get in a knot if yours doesn't have one, because Wal-Mart ranks for toasters even though their domain is www.walmart.com.
  • If you use keywords in your page links, and if you use keywords in your filenames, that reputedly helps - most people do that anyway because you choose a filename that is logical, and a keyword usually pops to mind.
  • If you use H1 tags around your text titles, and bold important phrases that have keywords in them, that reputedly helps because you just indicated to the search engine that those words were more important.
  • Your site structure helps too - if you lay out your site with a single focused topic per page, it helps you get traffic clear through your site, since any page can show up on searches.

Mostly, do what is logical. Don't ever try to trick the search engines into getting visitors that are not actually looking for what you have. And last, do what you can do easily, and don't worry too much about the rest. Search Engine Optimization is usually more about nudging your traffic, and not really about skyrocketing your numbers.

The tactics above are solid, and proven. They aren't going to change any time soon, and they are not based on tricks which will only hurt your site or cause you to have to re-write your site coding if the rules change.

9. Signature Lines

Two of the most powerful low cost ad options are business cards and signature lines. A signature line is the online equivalent to a business card, and you should carry it everywhere!

Signature lines are simpler than business cards. You can set up your email program to automatically insert a signature line into any email you compose. It should be short, and concise, containing your name, business name, URL, and just a simple description. A signature line should use one or two keywords, but like any good advertising, it should not be full of hype, and it should deliver an effective message.

Your friends and family probably won't buy from you, but they should have no doubt as to what it is that you do for a living. They won't mind seeing it in print, and may even pass it on. The power of a signature line is more than what we think, because emails get forwarded, sometimes to lists of people. Occasionally that signature line goes too.

Like a business card, it validates your business. It is an expected thing in corresponding with potential clients or customers.

You can use a signature line in other ways. When you participate in online forums, or post to a group, just leave your signature line. If you post to a guestbook or other comment area, leave your URL if you have the chance. It will not only give you some direct exposure, it will also help you with link building since your URL will be archived in the pages that the search engines index.

Now, do NOT go around spamming guestbooks or forums! That is NOT what I am recommending! I am merely suggesting that you leave your URL or signature line wherever you normally go, doing what you normally do. Certainly those who come in contact with you should know what you do! And when you are really excited about your business, it becomes part of who you are, so there is no reason why you should not include it with your name. I had long underestimated the power of this, but when I stopped being afraid to leave my URL wherever I went, it was surprising how many clicks came in from that. Not only do I get clicks from it, but about half of my clients come from forums I am on, or because they were referred by someone who "knows" me from one of the forums. (You can see in your tracking that some clicks come through mail clients, or through forum URLs.)

Signature lines can be attached to articles that you write, and serve as a form of viral marketing. They can reach out beyond your normal sphere of influence and touch people you would not normally affect.

The purpose of signature lines and business cards is not to hard sell. They are a way of using normally established connections and relationships to build business connections from. People are more likely to do business with someone they feel they know. If they have met you, they'll more likely check out your website if you make it convenient for them to do so. If they feel they know you, as many people do from online conversations, then they are more likely to feel they can trust you.

It is just a way of saying, "Oh, and by the way, in case you are interested, this is what I do."

Sig lines are totally free. They are also very powerful both directly, and indirectly. For someone trying to promote a business on the cheap, there simply is no excuse for not using a signature line!

10. Text Ads

Text ads are a hot topic, and a bit of a controversial one. There are really only three ways to get them - Pay for them, Trade for them, or find a way to get them free.

The benefits of text ads are undisputed:

  1. They actually get more clickthroughs than banner ads.

  2. They can be set up to appear as context ads, so they appear within the content.

  3. They can be made to be attractive, and to have visual appeal, so they need not be less eye-catching than banner ads when that is a benefit (it isn't always).

  4. They have more power to improve search engine ranking than image ads or Links page ads.

  5. They are most often placed on a content page, instead of a Links page, so they can be very closely targeted for maximum marketing effectiveness.

The controversy does not come in over their value, it comes in over how you acquire them.

Some SEO experts say that all search engines frown on the practice of link purchasing, or text ad purchasing, if the ad does not have a "no follow" tag (a bit of code that basically tells the search engine to ignore the link).

Others say that it is acceptable as long as you don't go overboard, and as long as you purchase ads on relevant sites.

Of course, some people saying that have a motive to say it. The fact is though, that there is compelling evidence to suggest that the second philosophy is a fairly safe one:

  1. There are several highly reputable companies that broker text links. They do so in a way that keeps the risks low, by not flooding the net with new links.

  2. Practically, the search engine people KNOW that you HAVE to be able to market SOMEHOW. Purchasing text links is a legitimate practice, and is not search engine manipulation unless you are trying to buy massive amounts for the express purpose of manipulating pagerank.

  3. When you purchase them on small sites, many site owners do not know how to do more than just stick your ad in. Requiring a "no follow" tag is unreasonable, and impractical for most small sites.

  4. Ad space is valuable, and nobody is going to just give it away. Trades, selling, and bartering are time honored marketing practices.

  5. Smart site owners do not sell ad space to just anyone. They screen the ads for relevancy and for quality. So text ads on a high quality site, whether or not they are paid for, are STILL a recommendation for that site.

  6. Purchasing links through a service that promises you thousands of backlinks is stupid. It always has been, and it can be considered nothing other than an attempt to manipulate. Many sites that promise this, or that sell links for that purpose have been banned by the search engines because the sites are low quality, apart from the sale of links!

Now, you really HAVE to take what I say with a grain of salt, and get information to back it up elsewhere, because I sell advertising on my own sites.

Supposedly, Google does not punish a site for selling ads. But they DO punish one for selling ads for the express purpose of increasing pagerank, and if they have a hodgepodge of links, or if the site is low quality it won't rank well either. And I heard one "expert" say that search engines have ways of knowing whether a link was purchased or not, but frankly, how could they?

Just because I sell ads on my site does not mean all were purchased. I place some of my own ads in there also, along with affiliate links, links to the websites of friends that I feel deserve the exposure, etc. And while I have a page that offers advertising on some of my sites, I don't have that on all of my sites, though I do sell ads on all of my sites. Sure, with some large sites that abuse the system, there might be an issue, but I think the issues are far too cloudy for small sites and small businesses to draw blanket conclusions.

When you look for paid text links, especially those on smaller sites, watch your clickthroughs. See if you actually get traffic from them.

Some smaller sites also have "lifetime ads", where you pay a single flat rate for permanent placement. Most business owners will be honest about it - it is in fact simpler to be honest than to take the time to remove ads! If you can find these, you can often get a lifetime placement on a new site for $10 to $20. It may just be a link and nothing more, but when you can find these, get them, because they'll offer you a good value - you paid once, and your ad will stay there as the site grows. The site owner offers these to get ads on the site initially, which encourages other advertisers to make purchases. Smart site owners will place those links on relevant pages, and won't approve ads that are low quality.

Some sites will also lock in a low rate if you get in early. This again, benefits them by encouraging early ad sales, and it can really benefit you as the site grows and traffic increases. You take a little more risk in the beginning, but you get the chance to win big on low cost advertising long term.

Just be reasonable if you choose to purchase text links. Don't purchase any that say "hundreds of links instantly!" or anything like that. Seek out high quality sites (quality is more important than anything else), which offer a reasonable price, and which have content that directly relates to yours. If the site has a good reputation, then your clickthroughs will be worth more as well, because people will come to your site with a preconceived attitude of trust.

Read up on banner ads also, because many of the issues for banner ads are the same.

11. Pay Per Click

There are people who would have you believe that using Pay Per Click is as simple as paying your money, writing your ad, picking out a few keywords and then sitting back to watch your income explode. T'aint so... The reality is far more complex than that! Pay Per Click marketing is a skill. Doing it right takes time, analysis, research, and then continuing monitoring, reanalysis, and adjustment.

AdWords gets the most attention in this type of advertising. And it is the hardest system to use. It does offer more flexibility than other systems for making different kinds of adjustments and for tracking results, managing multiple campaigns, etc, but there is a definite learning curve, and to ignore it is certain disaster. AdWords, without understanding, can open a great sucking hole in your marketing budget that fails to return anything at all!

Don't gamble with Pay Per Click. Start out with a simpler system, and learn to use it well. Once you know how to make money with it, then try AdWords and be willing to study and learn how to make it do what you want it to do.

Test with Kanoodle or some other simpler system. Set a budget of $1 per day, and see if your income increases. If it does not, then tweak. Keep tweaking every few days. By the end of the month, you should have some idea of whether you can make it work or not.

You should watch two statistics for each ad: The length of time the average visitor stays (or the number of pages they visit - but usually length of time is adequate), and whether or not you make any additional ad money or sales compared to the amount you are spending.

Never use Pay Per Click with a business that cannot support the cost of clicks. Remember, with PPC, you pay for every site visitor, regardless of whether they buy or not. So you might have to pay quite a bit to get site visitors. If you have a low per order profit margin, then PPC is not going to work for you. If you have an ad supported informational site, the chances are extremely low that you'd be able to get PPC ads at a low enough cost to offset the even lower returns from PPC income on your site (you pay more for incoming clicks, and you pay for EVERY incoming click... outgoing clicks pay you LESS, and only 1 in 100 or fewer people coming in, will click an ad to go out... do the math!). Paid Inclusion may be a better option for ad supported sites.

The great thing about PPC is that if you can find a winning combination, good keywords and a well written ad, and a site that converts browsers to buyers well enough to profit, then increasing profits further is a matter of simply increasing your daily budget. It can be very difficult to find that combination, and for some businesses, they may never succeed. But for those that do, Pay Per Click is a pure winner.

Gambling means that there are more losers than winners, and when you go into PPC without caution or understanding, you are gambling. Education is important with Pay Per Click, otherwise you are playing in a game that is rigged against you.

12. Ethical Viral Marketing Ideas

Viral Marketing refers to marketing that spreads itself. There is nothing dishonest about the practice, though it is often misused. Learn how to make it work right for your business.

Viral marketing sounds nasty, but it is actually one of the great processes of the 21st century, which is becoming refined and applied more creatively all the time. It is often misused, so you must be careful to only use honorable tactics, but when used correctly, can develop power exponentially.

Viral marketing is built on a couple of concepts:

  1. When you reach all of the people within your own sphere of influence, you can build a comfy little Mom and Pop business. When you take that one step further, and each person you contact reaches people within THEIR sphere of influence, the numbers explode in a much bigger potential.

  2. If you provide incentives, most people are willing to do a bit of marketing for you in exchange for something you give them or do for them.

  3. If you think creatively, you can figure out some kind of incentive to offer for almost any business.

Viral marketing consists of using other people to spread your marketing message far beyond the scope of your own reach. Affiliate marketing is perhaps the best known form of this, multiple tier programs especially. eBooks, Link Exchanges, Certain types of Freebies, MLM marketing, Article Exchanges, Forwardable eZines, and Chain Letters are all forms of viral marketing. Chain letters are the one item in this list that are not ethical, and that are never used by legitimate businesses.

But lets explore how some of the other methods work, so you can understand the concepts that make them work. Once that is understood, you can come up with an idea to spread your own business in a way that does not cost you heavily.

Affiliate marketing is effective for many businesses because it compensates other people for reaching people within their sphere. When you pay only for sales, you only pay for results, so the cost of advertising is well contained. The real power of affiliate marketing comes from a multi-tier system. That means that for each person that signs up with you, you pay a certain commission on sales. Then you also pay them a commission on sales generated by anyone that signs up as an affiliate under them. This has far more power than a single level program, because your affiliates not only sell your product, they sell your affiliate program as well. The program has the potential to perpetuate itself far beyond the people who would normally come in contact with your business.

Distributorships and MLM marketing were the original concept behind all this. They have been so badly misused, and dishonorably sold though, that it can be quite difficult to succeed with one. They originated the concept of compensation on the sales of your downline though. True Multi Level Marketing is a form of viral marketing. In other words, marketing with an incentive built in to perpetuate itself.

I believe that the true power of viral marketing goes deeper than these common concepts though, and it is being applied in many ways across the net, and through offline tactics. Here are how some of those work:

eBooks - Giving away an eBook can show your expertise in a specific field. Giving away an eBook with the right of the recipient to give it away, means that it may spread far and wide. Because if you give someone something they can place as a download or incentive on their site, you have given them something of value. Just make sure that every copy contains your URL and contact information, and a description of what you do, and it becomes self-perpetuating advertising. Make sure your content is actually valuable though, a glorified ad will be of value to no one.

Link Exchanges - Link exchanges are pretty simple. You trade link for link with someone else. Each link from someone else's site to yours helps you a little. But it does not feed itself. To give it some power, you need to do one of two things: Figure out how to make other people come to you for trades, or figure out how to reward people for passing on your link. This can be as simple as setting up a form on your page for people to submit their links to (make sure you can review them before posting them so you weed out the illegals and the SPAMmers), to offering an incentive for a link placed (and that incentive can also have your URL on it and be replicatable so the recipient can give it away).

Freebies - There are all kinds of freebies on the net. Some have more value than others. And some are easier to use for marketing than others. Ideally, the best freebies for marketing are 1. Able to have a URL printed on them or embedded in them. 2. Replicatable so that you can offer them unlimited times without it costing you more. 3. Free to pass on so that anyone who receives it and likes it can give it to someone else. 4. Genuinely valuable so that people will WANT to get it, and want to offer it as a freebie themselves. So don't just post a freebie on your site, figure out how that freebie can work for you long after it leaves your site, without being obnoxious to the recipient. Images can be watermarked, clipart can be created and posted for use with the stipulation that they link back to you on any page they use it on, entire websites or sections can be replicatable in return for link placements, RSS feeds can be branded, services can be traded for links, etc.

Articles - Post articles for free use by others, on the condition that your signature remain intact. In fact, you can put a notice in the signature line when you post them on your own site that states this, so if others post it on THEIR site, it is available for reprinting there too. If you post them on certain forums for exchange you won't be able to do that, but they will reach a good market usually anyway. Again, it MUST be more than just a glorified ad, or it won't get passed on.

eZines - eZines can become a form of viral marketing when they contain the notice at the bottom that the eZine may be forwarded intact to anyone. Taking it one step further, you can put a notice on articles that you write for it that invites people to reprint the article with the signature line intact.

Discounts - Discounts can be used as a means of spreading the word. If you include extra business cards with a discount printed on the back with each order that you fill for your customers, and invite them to share those cards, then your business is advertised to their acquaintances also.

Invitations - Any time you advertise a special event, sale, or new product, include an invitation to your customers to photocopy the flyer and pass it on. You can offer an incentive with this if you like - "Bring a friend and get a free gift". But make sure you can track and process the incentive accurately.

If you use it right, viral marketing has tremendous power. It is best when applied creatively to your site, and when it provides a truly useful product or service to others. The great thing about the web is that it is worth it to spend hours creating a good marketing incentive program, because once it is set up, it runs virtually on auto-pilot. It may take you weeks to produce a good quality eBook, or several days to write a really good article. But once it is done, it goes on working for you over and over with no real additional cost per person. An affiliate program will go on working for you with a monetary cost only when someone buys, and a distributorship, when set up intelligently, will go on replicating itself with very little ongoing cost. Images and articles will go out across the world into places you could not imagine, far beyond the few minutes you spent uploading them.

Make sure you never abuse your customer's confidence, and never become obnoxious about it. Viral marketing is based on value earned for value given, just as anything else is. The web just makes it very easy to give good value over and over. Somewhere in your business, there is something you can give as a marketing incentive. Do it creatively and generously, and it will come back to you many times over.

13. Directory Listings

Do not confuse Directory Listings with Free Classified listings... They are NOT the same thing! Directories are listings of websites which have been screened by a real person before the listing goes live.

Very often, directories are topical - classed as Niche Directories, a wide variety of web directories are confined to listing sites within a narrow topic range. They may be broad based - such as a Culinary Directory that lists everything having to do with cooking and food, to a specific niche topic such as Culinary Equipment, or a specific Ethnic Cooking only.

Other directories are general directories, which are categorized. Efficiency of categories varies widely, and it can be difficult to find an appropriate category for some listings.

There are two basic categories of directories as far as marketing value goes:

  1. Static Link directories. These directories give you a static link in your listing, and this will usually give you Search Engine Pagerank benefits. A static link means a plain HTML hyperlink that does not change. Some directories that use static links will use a "no follow" tag, which cancels out pagerank benefits. In a few cases, they will use both a dynamic link and a static link - the dynamic link in the title of the listing, and a static link below it. This counts as a static link, because the search engines DO see the static link.
  2. Dynamic Link directories. These directories produce a redirected link. This type of link is used frequently to track clicks on the links, but the end result for you is that they ONLY benefit you from those clicks. They have no search engine pagerank benefits. This is not a reason NOT to list with them, but it does mean they will have lower value.

Normally when you list a site with a directory, you will have to either use a form to select the category and enter the information, or, with many "human reviewed" directories, you have to go in and search out the category you want, then use a link on that page to submit your site. This means that submitting to some directories can be time consuming.

Finding directories also takes some time. The cool thing is though, once you find a directory in the niche you are looking for, it is usually very quick to find others. Many times, the directories will have listings within their pages that point you to other directories.

Some directories will require a reciprocal link. Now, be careful with this one! If you trade links with them, then you'll get a little lower pagerank benefit from the site. That is ok when the site has a very high pagerank and you can still benefit from it. But if the directory gives you a dynamic link that does not help your pagerank, and they want you to put a static backlink on your site for them (their software may not detect any other kind as being valid), then you may end up on the losing end of the trade, unless your link on their site brings significant traffic.

Before you trade links with anyone, check their pagerank - it need not be high! You just need to make sure they have not been banned. If they have been banned, do NOT place a link to them on your site!

Directory links can be time consuming to get, and over time, many other websites will pick up your link anyway. But if you are struggling to get exposure on a tight budget, then directory links can be an important part of getting good quality links.

14. Online Events

If you do an online or offline event correctly, you can do a great deal to help to establish a reputation that leads to sales and contacts later.

Online events allow you the opportunity to get a message onto a page in a "virtual plaza" or other place. Such pages are often called "booths".

The best events have other opportunities scheduled, such as conference calls or chat rooms where you get a spotlight, or where your business can be featured in other ways.

Events are a great way to get your face and a quick business message in front of a large number of people at one time. You can reach potentially thousands from a single effort. That is pretty amazing. And every single person who visits your page does so because they are interested in being there - this can lead them to your website, or to items listed directly on the booth page.

Online events are not quite so powerful as offline events for long term exposure, but they still have a lot of ability to put your face, your name, and a message in front of people in a way that associates them together in their minds.

You can gain one of two things from an event:

  1. Sales. Sometimes we go to an event to sell things. We set up a quickie shopping cart, and cash in on impulse buys. This works well for a range of businesses.

  2. Exposure. For service or large item retailers, you rarely make a sale at an event. You make contacts instead. You build relationships and create a presence. It is just as powerful as making sales on the spot, even though you may not see those results for a long time. The full effects of an event for a service business may occur over years.

Be prepared. If you have products, you need to showcase them well. If you have a service business, then you need to make an impression effectively, through demonstrations, information, and interaction.

One of the keys to successful event participation is to give them something to remember you by. For an online event, this can be a download, an article, a little freebie, a discount, or any other thing that they can feel they have taken away with them.

Be friendly and not pushy. Be a real person. Find a way to connect with the people as much as you can - be more concerned with that than with selling if you have a service business. Enjoy the interaction, and people are more likely to respond to you.

Leave them with a good memory if you can, and with something tangible. If you manage that, you'll reap the benefits for years beyond what you think they'll ever remember.

15. Forum Participation: Sharing Your Expertise

You'll notice I did not say "Posting to Forums", I said "Forum PARTICIPATION". Participation is the key here! Nobody loves a spammer!

Spamming forums is a no-no. It is a bad marketing tactic only used by lowlifes who have no consideration for others.

Think about it... Do you participate in forums just to read the ads of other people? Do you pay any attention to their ads? If YOU don't, then what makes you think someone else will? If it annoys you to see other people just blast ads and contribute nothing useful, then you can be assured that you will only annoy other people if you do the same. Just because it is YOUR product and YOU think it is neat, does not mean anyone else will feel differently about your inconsiderate ads than they do about other spammer's inconsiderate ads!

Auto-posting is even worse - it is not only inconsiderate, it is totally ineffective.

So, what DO you do?

First of all, choose your forums carefully. Forums can benefit you in two ways:

  1. By networking with other professionals, you can learn more about how to operate your business successfully.

  2. By sharing your expertise, you can gain the trust and respect of other people, and meet potential clients or customers.

There are two distinct purposes there, and two distinct types of forums. Do NOT confuse the two purposes, or you'll be wasting your time with forum posts!

To network with other professionals, choose forums which are aimed at professionals. For example, I'd join a Web Design Professionals forum. I would use that forum to ask questions, and gain professional knowledge. I would NOT promote my service there, though I WOULD leave my URL at the end of every post (the search engines will still see that, and it will help my pagerank).

To use a forum as a marketing venue, I'd choose a forum that had a high percentage of people who NEED my services and expertise. I could choose a forum for Learning Web Design, or Web Design Startup. I could choose a New Business Forum, where a lot of people might have need for a website - since I also know a lot about starting businesses, this is a good fit.

Now, when I have chosen a forum to market TO, I would NOT send them ads! When someone asked a question, I would ONLY give them a link to a FREE resource that I have. When someone asks for help, and you reply with "I sell this service, email me!!!", then you are considered rude. Trust me on this one, do NOT reply to a cry for help with nothing but an ad!

Instead, offer REAL help. Give them genuine information that helps them know what it is that they need. If they then know that they need additional help, they will go to the person who already helped them the most, and who they could understand!

Indirect marketing is by FAR the most effective way to make headway on forums. Give helpful information that genuinely demonstrates your skills in a kind way, and then drop a signature line at the bottom to tell them who you are and what you do.

The only exception to this is when someone says, "I am looking for a part for this item, and cannot find it!" Then they are asking to BUY something, and it is appropriate to reply OFF LIST, that you have the item, or can get it. The off list part is important, because that person ASKED for an ad... No one else on the list did!

You must always follow the rules for posting on forums. Some allow signature lines, some do not. The vast majority do though, and your signature line is the way that you market. A short, simple signature line, with a single URL on it (targeted to the topic in question - two URLs maximum!) will get traffic from people who are interested in what you have, because of what you SAID in your post.

Some people use a Pre-Written signature line. I never do. I have 30 websites, and offer a range of services. So when I drop a sig line, I target the URL to whatever is most appropriate for the post in question. If someone is asking about quick and healthy meals, I drop one URL. If they are asking about how much is reasonable to spend on a website, I drop a different one. I keep them very simple so I can type them fast - an example would be:

Laura
Mom to Eight
Firelight Business Enterprises, Inc
http://www.firelightwebstudio.com

That sig line works ANYWHERE, whether HTML is allowed or not. And I can quickly change it to:

Laura
Mom to Eight
MicroWebmasters Alliance
http://www.microwebmasters.com

Or:

Laura
Mom to Eight
Western Hills Institute
http://www.westernhillsinstitute.com

This makes it very easy for me to target the exposure of my sites, to get a new site exposed quickly, and to keep from having a sig line that lists 30 URLs! It is far more effective with this many sites to do this, than it is to use a single doorway page, because people would come in, and get lost in the home page with that many topics coming off the page!

Forums are a great way to get going, and they were the primary means of building my business the first time around. I participated on Computer Help forums, and met many great clients and customers there - some of whom, seven years later, still email me to see how my family is doing, even though I no longer market those services. I am still referred to regularly on one forum as "the Mac Guru", and as a very smart lady, even though I have not posted there more than twice in the last three years.

Just don't abuse them, or think of them as open season on spamming. Follow the rules, and use them in the right way. You'll get further, build solid business contacts, and your time will be well spent in the long term.

Link Optimization is a technique for giving your links higher relevancy value in search engines. This can occur on-site, and off-site, and has equal value either place as a marketing and search engine optimization technique.

Link optimization is considered a White Hat SEO tactic - that is, safe and recommended, as long as you do not go overboard, or use unrelated terms. It is a means of insuring that your hyperlinks and your site keywords are related to one another in as many places as possible online.

Onsite Link Optimization.

  1. Use a full URL, not a relative URL. That means, code your links as "http://www.mysite.com/pagewhatever.htm" instead of "pagewhatever.htm". This means that each time you link within your site, the full URL is used in the link.

  2. Use page filenames that mean something. This page has a filename that relates to the primary topic of the page. I don't know if that really helps much, but every little bit, you know...

  3. Use anchor text keywords. Anchor text is the text that the hyperlink is embedded in. In the navigation menu, it is the names of the links to the other pages. Notice I have used very logical keywords for each link. Those keywords now appear on every page of my site, and they are tied directly to the pages that they link to.

  4. Use a simple site structure. This will give your pages and links the full power of your SEO efforts.

  5. When cross linking your sites, use keywords in your links.

  6. Use keywords near your links if they are context or descriptive links. Anchor text is considered to be the most important text, but nearby words are also counted.

  7. Use short anchor phrases. Do not make huge long sentences that are linked, that is considered to be at least Gray Hat SEO, if not Black Hat. Optimize a link for the MOST IMPORTANT keyword or keyphrase only.

  8. If you are using an image link, then use an Alt Tag with your keywords in it. Same rules, keep it short and meaningful.

Onsite, you control everything. You can optimize to your heart's content, and tweak and nudge all you want. Offsite is another story, and you may not have very much control over it.

Offsite Optimization

  1. The same rules apply for linking - use keywords in the anchor text, use descriptive text near the links, and link to full URLs (include the http://, and a pagename if applicable).

  2. You can optimize your links in your signature line. That sig line will find its way around the net in a surprising number of places.

  3. When you cannot use HTML in your sig line, use a full url, with descriptive text near it.

  4. You cannot control what other people do with your link on their site unless you are paying for the link. So don't fret about whether other people optimize your links or not, any link is better than none.

  5. You can put HTML code for text links on your link exchange page, but some people still will not use it. You also end up with all the inbound links looking the same, and variety is actually better even if some are not optimized.

  6. Variety counts. If you do put HTML code on your page for others to use to link to your site, then offer multiple choices or change it a little on a regular basis.

  7. Optimized banner ads are best, but some webmasters won't do it right. HTML code on your page is best for image ads anyway because it allows you to track the ad performance, but some will just want the image and link.

Link optimization is something that you do as you go along. When you create your site navigation and do your linking, the extra second it takes for you to do it right can make a difference in the end.

But it is also not a hugely critical thing. There are tons of sites that use internal catch phrases for linking instead of keywords, that nevertheless do well because of content. So do what you can, and then don't fuss about the parts you cannot control.

17. Search Engine Registration

Search Engine Registration is the beginning of online marketing, not the end of it. The Search engines have a lot of power to bring you free traffic, and registration with them starts that process. But it takes more than just that one simple effort to bring you good traffic.

A lot of emphasis is placed on registering a website with the search engines. Companies that offer automatic registration make it sound as though this is the be all and end all of getting traffic to your site.

So I suppose you'd be surprised to hear me say that registering a site with the search engines is NOT the most important thing you can do to get website traffic! But its true.

If you register a site, but do not link it into any other quality sites, your traffic will stop at about 200 hits a month, and just get stuck there.

If you link your site into other sites, even if you don't register it, you'll get traffic that will gradually grow over time, way past what it would with search engine registration and the search engines will index you anyway. It happens almost as fast as if you registered it. The reason for this is found in the way in which search engines index sites, which I'll explain a little further down.

The best strategy, of course, is to do both, which gets you the most permanent traffic in the fastest way. I only point out this rule so that you understand that while registering with the search engines is usually a step you don't really want to leave out (with your first site anyway), it is NOT the most important one, and it is not a solution in itself.

Registering a site with the search engines consists of two sets of tasks:

  1. You can auto submit to certain search engines and directories. You can choose any system or program to do that, there is not a lot of difference between them, because there are big search engines which they all submit to, then tons of tiny ones which don't make a huge difference whether you submit to them or not. All of them submit to the big ones, the differences lie in how many, and which, of the ones that don't matter.
  2. You MUST submit your site to specific search engines manually. They simply do not allow auto-submissions. So systems that promise superior performance through auto-submitting simply cannot deliver on their promise. To do the job right, you HAVE to manually submit to certain search engines and directories.

If you do not get anything else done, you'll want to register with “The Big Three”. That is, Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Google allows auto-submissions, but you currently have to manually submit to Yahoo and MSN. And all three of those will send you significant traffic over time if you get them done, so don't miss out on one.

It pays to take the time to work your way through the submission process at SelfPromotion.com, because some of the small sites will index you faster. Others will pick you up later from other search engines.

There is controversy over whether to submit regularly or not, and whether to submit multiple pages. Here is my own personal rule about how often to submit, how much to submit, and why.

I submit my sites to the search engines no more than once a year. Some of them not even that often after the initial submission. This is because if you change your content regularly, then the major search engines will re-index you anyway.

The only sites that need to be resubmitted are those that almost never change, and even then they do not need to be submitted more than once every six months or so, and only if you make a major change. You see, the only reason to resubmit is to get the search engines to update changes. And if you have no changes, then resubmitting does not help.

If you have a neglected site that you make major changes to, then resubmitting can help, especially if you intend to go on making regular changes.

As far as submitting individual pages, I feel this is also generally a waste of time. However, if you have a site that needs to get rapid traffic to specific interior pages, then submitting just those pages can help. Usually though, over time, the search engines will spider deeper and deeper into your site and index those pages anyway. This happens most often within 3-6 months. And since your home page is indexed anyway, if you don't have special features that need traffic in their own right, then submitting individual pages usually is not necessary. I just feel that there are more effective uses of my time that will get more results than this.

If this is your first website, you might want to submit more than one page to the search engines. If you are building multiple sites and are interested in getting things done fast, then you can just register each new domain with the search engines, and then go on to building another while you let the search engines do their job. Takes more time to gain momentum, but pays off very well when it does.

If you have stats tracking on your web host, you can watch the progress of the indexing process. You'll see the big search engines spider one to five pages, then ten to twenty, then the whole site, over a few months. You'll also see the traffic from them do the same thing, only usually not until weeks after they spider.

Be aware that it takes anywhere from 24 hours to 8 months for your site to get traffic from some search engines. Some will spider your site and include it right away. Others will spider the site and then review it by a real person. Some will require that you submit it and then they will choose the category when they get around to it. Google seems to index you, then bury your site at the bottom of the listings until it gains some popularity - this can take six to eight months to get significant traffic, if you ever do (in highly competitive markets, it is very hard to get search engine traffic). So it still may take considerable time to get results after registering it.

Registering your site is not the be all and end all of internet marketing. It is really just the first step. It is the one that you make when your site is ready to be viewed, with content on each page, and for many sites, it is sort of the equivalent of a “grand opening”, though there is no party, and no immediate response.

18. Article Marketing

If you can write, you have a great potential marketing tool at your fingertips! Articles can be a very powerful means of building a reputation, getting your site link placed where it can help you, and of creating useful content for your site to generate ad revenue.

The great thing is, not only is Article Marketing viral in nature, but the distribution channels are already in place. Just plug into them and go.

I have heard the complaint that they are very time intensive. Most free or low cost marketing tactics are. The important thing is not how long it takes you, but whether or not it is powerful enough to justify the time. Writing articles can be powerful enough to justify the time to write one or more a week for marketing purposes.

It can take you a day or so to get your first article right. Later, you'll be able to whip one out in less than an hour. That one article, if used right, can go forward across the web, and leave your words and your URL in places you'd never imagine.

It is nothing more than a viral marketing technique. Give something of value, and others will be happy to do some of your marketing for you. Giving good value is the real key!

There are three aspects to marketing with articles: Giving something of value, write well, and make it an effective marketing tool.

Give something of value.

If you are trying to give something that someone else will want to have, then your writing must be understandable, and your information must be useful. A glorified advertisement will be of use to no one. In fact, the best articles never mention what you can do for someone directly at all! The articles that have the most power are those that take a problem that someone has, and give them the solution to it in a simple way.

Consider what information you have that your reader might want. This has nothing to do with the products or services you offer. If you give them truthful and helpful information, then they will come to ask you for a solution when they get in over their heads. If you give them half truths, partial explanations, and over simplifications, they'll feel that you either don't know what you are talking about, or that if you deal with them in a business situation that you'll not be tuned in to their needs.

When you write an article that is nothing more than a glorified ad - for example, an article on Search Engine Optimization that focuses entirely on selecting a good firm to do it for you, and that keeps saying that your company fits the criteria - it will not be perceived as either valuable, or useful. Who does it benefit? If it only benefits you, then it will be useless as a marketing tool!

If on the other hand, you write an article on the same topic which tells a person which parts they can easily do themselves, and which parts require in depth statistical analysis, never referring to your own business except perhaps in an anecdotal way, then you have given people something of genuine value. The reader gains some knowledge from it. He goes and tries it and it works. Then he feels ready for the next step, and knows he needs either more knowledge, or a pro to do it for him. If he decides to hire a pro, there is a chance that he'll use your link in that article to open up a dialog with you. Because you not only gave him reliable information, you acknowledged his intelligence, and empowered him. He feels that if you can empower him then, that a business relationship with you will do the same!

And it does not stop there. People looking for content for their sites will also be reading your articles. If they read your article and it is nothing but an ad for you, they have no use for it. They want helpful information, not ads. If your article offers something of value to a reader, they are more likely to choose to reprint it. When they reprint it, your URL goes with it, and your sphere of influence just magnified to another level.

Articles serve a couple of purposes - They show your expertise, and they give you the chance to begin to build a respectful relationship with your prospective clients. That article can go out and reach people that you'd not normally reach, and if you have written it well, they'll feel like they know you just a bit. That can help them to feel more comfortable asking you for help with their needs, instead of doing a net search for a total stranger.

Write Well

It is important that you write well enough to convey your central message. Fail in that, and your article will flounder. You don't have to be an English Major, but you do need to write in an understandable and logical manner, and to pay attention to spelling, grammar and style.

Your writing style should reach your target audience. The best technique to develop an effective writing style, is to write like you are talking to the person whom you are trying to teach. A conversational style can be especially effective if you offer personal services, because it helps people feel they know you better.

If you have any doubts about whether or not your writing is effective, just ask a few people to proof-read it for you. They'll let you know if you left something out, or if your meaning was ambiguous.

Make it an Effective Marketing Tool

Even if all the other elements are in place, an article is not an effective marketing tool if it does not serve, in some way, to bring business back to you. You can get all the other elements right, and it can be a terrific informational or teaching tool, but if you leave off the critical footnote, it won't help you like it should.

Articles for marketing should contain a signature line. The signature line should do three things:

  1. State your name, business name, and a brief business description (two to five words is best).
  2. Briefly state your qualifications. No more than a sentence or two.
  3. For some places, you'll want to include a copyright statement - that the article may be freely distributed as long as it is intact with the signature line untouched and copyright statement included.

The first two items are a way of saying, "By the way, if you need more help with this, here is how you can contact me". It should not be a blatant ad filled with hype! It should be another informative description, just telling people what you do, and how you come to know so much!

The third element is not needed when you post the article to a public database that exists for the purpose of distributing articles for publication elsewhere, because their copyright policy will cover that. But this third item can be highly useful for articles that you publish yourself on your website, in your newsletters, or which you post on forums. By including the copyright statement in the terms of reprint inclusion, you send that message out wherever your article goes also, meaning that if someone sees it in another person's eZine or on their website, they will know they can use it themselves under your stated terms.

You can include links within the article in context to your sites, or even to affiliate programs if they are appropriate. Again, you must make sure they are a bona-fide resource though, and that the purpose of the article is not just to push your program.

I have heard people say not to put multiple URLs at the bottom in the signature line. But if you have more than one website that applies to the topic at hand, go ahead and put in more than one. Who cares if they cannot click on both? If you increase the odds that they'll click on one of them by offering them a choice, you have increased the marketing potential, not diluted it (after all, 100% of the clicks that come are still coming to YOU!). Do not put in more than two or three though, because more is not better! Two is a choice, four is confusion!

Now, when you post articles online, there will be policies and conditions each time. Some sites have limitations on how long your article can be, or how many links you can put into them. Some have limitations on the length or format of the signature line. Make sure you read up before you post, and that your article complies with their terms.

You must respect copyright laws. You may only use content that you have created or have a legal right to use.

You can also build an article library on your own site. Whatever your product, if you write useful information related to it, and post it in a resource section, you can not only draw more people to your site, you can put copyright notices with them that allow reprinting with your signature line included.

A certain number of people will use your articles without including the signature line. But they are people who would steal your content anyway. Putting in the signature line gives others the chance to do you a favor in return, and a large number of them will.

If you wonder how far your article has gone, you can try using Copyscape (an online service) to search for matching copy.

If you can write well enough to share your knowledge with others, writing articles is one of the most powerful free ways to market. Because it is based on a principle of giving good value for the marketing you receive in return, it benefits everyone. It helps search engine ranking because it is perceived as a valued contribution. And when you write well, it perpetuates itself. It fits all the criteria of a good viral marketing technique.

Yes, it does take time. But it takes time only once to write an article, and then to post it in appropriate places online. Then it goes on working for you long after you have done the work.

19. Vertical Marketing: Ad Swaps

A lot of small sites either offer advertising, or their owners are open to ad swaps. The same rules hold here as with link exchanges though, and if you go out looking for them, you'll not have much success.

In the course of business networking, you'll run across people that you get along with, and who have a website that will compliment yours. Keep your eyes open for the opportunity for ad swaps within the course of normal associations with people. You'd be surprised how many you can find, I run into quite a few every week. But I don't spend time hunting them down.

Most established websites get lots of "link exchange" spam. And I do mean a LOT. If you offer ad swaps, you'll get a lot of trash offers too. The sad fact is that most people who approach you for ad trades who do not already know you will have trashy sites. Only 1 in a couple hundred will be legit.

This means that when you are on the receiving end of ad swap requests from strangers, you tend to throw them out. So if you send out requests to people YOU don't know, they will treat them as spam also. People are pretty reluctant to even swap ads with someone with whom they do not have some kind of established relationship.

So go back to forum participation, trade association memberships, networking groups, etc, to get ad swaps. And then just pay attention to the people around you, and when you stumble on someone with a quality site that compliments yours, make an offer after you have some kind of basic relationship established.

Make sure you never trade unless you have checked out the other site. Don't just swap and stick their link on your site, because if their site is banned, or using tactics that will get it banned, then it will hurt YOUR site to have their link on it. Make sure the site has pages indexed in Google. Look for Black Hat Seo on the site, and make sure the site has a good, high quality feel about it, with solid informational or product content.

20. Banner Ads

Banner ads are, unfortunately, one of those things that is overrated, and judged by appearance rather than effectiveness. However, they do have their place in a marketing campaign, and can be worth trading for or paying for if you track the results.

Button ads, which includes any smaller graphical ads, follow the same rules as banner ads, and both types of ads will be referred to collectively as banners in this page.

Banner ads will NOT be effective in the following situations:

  • If the banner fails to display a FAST, and meaningful message.
  • If the banner is placed on a page of banner ads. Such pages look trashy, and do not effectively market anything.
  • When placed on Links pages. They are largely ignored there by both people, and by search engines.
  • If they contain animations that have a rapid frame rate. If your ad flashes so fast that people cannot read a message on it, or so that it distracts them from the content of the page they are on, then your ad needs to be slowed down! Fast frame rates may catch attention, but they annoy more people than they attract, so tone it down!
  • If they have nothing to do with the content of the page. Once in a while you'll get lucky if you have an ad that is part of a banner exchange that does not take relevancy into account, but you'll have much better success if the page contains related items.

There are also factors which make banner ads much MORE effective.

  • When they are placed on relevant content pages, they have the most power.
  • When the ad coordinates with both the design, and feel, of the hosting site, they will attract the site users more effectively.
  • A button ad can be used with text beside it for additional descriptions.
  • Powerful marketing messages (no hype, just lots of meaning in a few words) work very well on banner ads, but don't try to squeeze in too much.
  • Make sure that frame rates on animations are slow enough to be comfortable to read, and so that visitors can ignore them if they choose - this keeps you from annoying your potential customers, which is NEVER a good idea! Animations are great for fitting in a longer message, but you still need to keep it short enough to not waste the time of the reader.
  • If you host the image on your own server, you can track views, and hits from it. This can help you to know whether it is effective or not. If you don't know what this means, ask a web designer, or feel free to email us and ask what it means.
  • Careful tracking of ad results can help you understand how to more effectively place them - which sites and locations work and which ones don't - and how to create a more effective ad to attract the kind of site visitors that you really want.

One of the myths about banner ads is that they are prettier, so they are more effective. Statistically, text ads actually outperform banner ads in most situations. There are times though, when a webmaster will demand a banner or button from you, or when displaying your logo or product may be an advantage.

Most banner rotation programs are less effective than ads on sites where they look like they were put there on purpose. Some will rotate your ad through on sites that have nothing to do with your topic, and virtually all of them cloak the URL and redirect it. Banner rotation programs, and some other places where you can put a banner ad, will require a specific sized banner - some standard, some not.

Create a good one - one which delivers an effective message in a single glance, and they can help as part of a good marketing plan.

Please read the page on Text Ads also, as it explains some of the issues with purchased ads, which are very similar for Banner Ads.



Terms of Use |   Privacy Policy  |  About

© Copyright 2015 Good Marketing Ideas