Note: This is the fourth in a series of posts about starting your own on-line business. To see other posts in this series, see the Entrepreneurship category of this blog.
Not too long ago, I received an e-mail from someone looking to grow their business, and he wanted to know what kind of marketing I’ve done, and what I’ve found effective in getting new customers. So I thought I would write a post about how I’ve in marketed my web-based businesses.
Most of these tips will also apply to any type of business, although some may only be effective in certain industries. If you do all of them, you’re sure to have success somewhere along the way. I have done each of these below, to some degree.
This is a great starting point for many businesses as a quick way to drive instant traffic to your website. How it works is that your ad will be shown to visitors who search for, or visit pages relating to, the keywords you’re targeting. If they click your ad, you pay a small amount, usually somewhere between $0.05 and $5.00 per click. What’s nice about this is that you only pay for people who come to your site. So you’re just paying for results. And it’s relatively cheap.
You have to be cautious with cost, though. If you’re targeting a very popular keyword that could bring thousands of people to your site in a matter of a few hours, you could have a big bill to pay at the end of the month! Determine how much you’re willing to pay and set your budget within the program so it will stop displaying ads when you hit that limit.
Some of the more popular pay-per-click options are Google Adwords, Yahoo Overture, and Microsoft AdCenter. You can also setup Pay-per-click campaigns on Facebook and many other popular websites on the Internet.
There is a lot to learn about how to effectively run an pay-per-click campaign. It’s also important to write effective ads that won’t waste your money. Check out any of the numerous free on-line tutorials, or take a look at Perry Marshall‘s site, who is one of the leading experts on the subject.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
If you have a website for your business, search engine optimization is a must. This is a huge topic, but not as complicated as most people make it seem. Here’s how I’d simplify it.
First, determine which keywords you want people to find your site under. For my business, I chose “music teacher software” as one of my main keywords. You’ll notice that if you search for “music teacher software” in Google, Music Teacher’s Helper is the first site listed. There are dozens of other keywords I’ve targeted since then, but it’s good to start with just one or two. Try to choose keywords that have a lot of traffic, but not a lot of competition with other sites who are doing good SEO. Google Trends and Google Keyword Tool are couple good resources to help you decide on some keywords.
Once you’ve picked your keywords, use them! Use them on your website frequently – at least once per page, for the pages you want to be found under that keyword. But don’t use it too frequently, or you’ll get docked – certainly less than every other sentence.
Finally, get other websites to link back to you using those keywords. For example, if someone writes a review about Music Teacher’s Helper, and links back with “click here”, that does me little good. Instead, I want them to link back with “music teacher software” being the link text (or whatever keyword I want to rank higher on). This will let search engines know that the keyword relates to my site.
Along the lines of SEO, having a blog is important to keep your search rankings up. If you can continue to provide quality, interesting, and relevant content, search engines will be more likely to bump you up on their lists. And people will be more likely to find you. If your site hasn’t changed at all in months or years, you’re going to start to fall behind.
Article marketing refers to writing articles that you submit to article websites such as ezinearticles.com in an effort to increase the number of external websites that are linking to you using your target keywords. Other options are writing and submitting press releases on-line, and requesting to write guest articles on other related blogs. Just make sure you link back to your site using your keywords somewhere in your article or in the footer. Commenting on other people’s blogs is another good way to get backlinks.
Word of Mouth
This has by far been the most effective method for bringing in new customers to Music Teacher’s Helper. People who love the program simply tell their friends, because it’s helped them so much. Their friends try it out, love it, and they continue spreading the word. And so it grows. In order for this method to be effective, you need a great product, and people who are excited about it. You need to really impress them. I’ve also found it helpful to remind others to spread the word. But when the product, the support, and the whole experience of what you’re offering is excellent, and exceeds expectations, people naturally want to share their experience. It’s powerful. And it’s free.
Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and more. People everywhere are using these tools to share what they’re doing and what’s interesting to them. Get a Facebook page, and a Twitter account and post to them regularly so people can follow what you’re up to. For example, every time we post something on our blog, it appears on our Twitter account as well. When we make improvements to our software, we’ll announce it on Twitter, too.
Make videos about your product and submit them to YouTube and other video sites. Try Squidoo. Yahoo Answers. Del.icio.us. The social area of web marketing is relatively young and there are dozens of ways to market your business in this sphere, and more appearing all the time. Do your research, and have fun.
Music Teacher’s Helper has an affiliate program, where we pay people a commission for each customer they refer to us. Getting other people to help promote and sell your product is an excellent way to help it grow. And if you’re willing to pay a nice incentive, you’re likely to get a lot more help with it.
Paying a generous commission, either a flat payout per referral, or a recurring percentage of each payment (which is what I do), will encourage people to tell others about your program, place your banner ads on their website, or promote you through other methods. And if you can get someone with a lot of influence in your market, or a website with a lot of traffic, to spread the word for you, it can do wonders for your numbers.
In addition to on-line marketing, I’ve also taken the time to go to a several state and national music teacher conferences. I’ve setup a booth, talked to teachers who walk by, showed them the software, and tried to give them some incentive to sign up right there, such as free giveaways or discounts. While conferences can be an expensive way to spread the word about your product, especially when you factor in airfare and hotel costs, it can be effective if you do it well. Also, the contacts you make at such conferences with other vendors can be invaluable, as friendships and partnerships can develop, and you can learn from each other.
I paid a good designer to create a nice 3-fold brochure for me, which I’ve set out at local music stores, taken to conferences, mailed to people in bulk when they’ve requested it, and handed them out whenever I got the chance. It can be expensive to have a high quality brochure designed and printed, but if you plan to do any in-person marketing, it’s helpful to have something tangible from which people can read about your product or service.
This has also been a very effective method for us, probably even more so because my business is all on-line. We send out a monthly newsletter, highlighting articles from our blog. I have also paid to have e-mail blasts sent to music teacher related e-mail lists, although these have been slightly less effective.
The most helpful use of e-mail marketing for us has been the automated responses that go out to teachers who sign up for a free trial of our software. Once they sign up, every few days for about a month, they get an e-mail from us asking about their experience, sharing some useful tips, or explaining more about the software. It’s helped immensely in keeping our program at the front of their minds and conversions increased significantly once we started doing this.
There are other small marketing methods we’ve used, but I’ve listed the main ones that have had the biggest effect for me. Again, if you try everything listed above, you are sure to find something that works well for you.
What hasn’t worked?
While all of the above methods have worked for me, and to some degree or another have brought in new customers, there are some methods that have had so few results, they have just not been worth it to me. Here are the marketing methods I don’t recommend for on-line businesses.
These have been an almost total waste of money for me. I’ve done it probably six times – it took me that long to learn my lesson. So what if the readership is 15,000? They can’t buy my product through the magazine. They still have to get on-line and do it. And most people seem to skim over the ads in magazines anyway, unless you do something really unique and big (read: full-page ad), which is also expensive. If your product costs a lot, magazine marketing could be valuable. But for me to recoup the costs associated with a magazine ad would be very difficult. The response rate is usually way below 1%. A much better method is to get a magazine editor to write a review of your program.
I think this was the very first method I used when I launched my business, and I never got much response from them. Well, I guess I can’t say I really tried it fully either. I made a handful of cheap fliers myself and put them up in a few music stores. It probably would have been more helpful if I’d gone to colleges, had people put them up in different states, all over, all at the same time, and offered some kind of incentive on the flier for them to check out the site. Maybe little pull-tabs to take home with them. Something else to try, I guess.
Okay, this is something I haven’t actually tried. It could probably work if you have a big enough list, but keep in mind that direct mail, such as postcards or letters, generally has a response rate of less than 1% as well. With the price of postage today, you have to weigh the size of your list with the price of your product, to determine if it’s something that could bring in enough business to cover the costs. Personally, I think there are more effective ways to market an on-line product.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful. But it won’t do you any good unless you actually do something with it. So, pick one of the methods above and try it out on your business. Test the results and see what happens. I don’t always get the response I want, but more often than not, I do, and the money I spent marketing more than pays for itself. What’s important is that you’re doing something.
16 Oct 2014