Internet Marketing for Small Business: how and where to start
If you’re a small business and you don’t have an effective internet marketing presence, you’re not in the race when potential customers are searching for the kind of product or service you sell. And let’s face it, that’s where people looking these days – online.
Many small businesses are missing out because they haven’t done the basic things to put themselves in the running. If you are one of those businesses, here’s a crash course.
The good news is you can do much of it for free. It could cost you as little as a few hundred dollars to get the essentials going.
I’ve tried to keep this as non-technical as I can. If you still find you need help, I’ve provided the name of a techie who can assist at the end.
1. Get yourself a website (for $159)
Are you starting from ground zero? If so, this first point is for you.
You need to buy a domain name (website address) and website hosting. There are a heap of companies out there that do it. You can search for them online. The ones I’ve used and recommend are Digital Pacific and Ventra IP. Both are Australian outfits and both did the job pretty well.
A domain will cost you about $15/year and hosting can be $12/month. So there’s the bulk of the cost in this whole article. $159 for a year. Most of the other ‘costs’ below are more about time than outlay.
Should you buy a .com or .com.au address? If you’re doing business internationally go for a .com (or a .net.) If you’re focusing locally in Australia go for a .com.au (or a .net.au.)
2. Get WordPress on your website’s domain (free)
WordPress started life as blogging software but is now being used by businesses large and small to build great websites. (The site you’re reading is built with WordPress.)
WordPress sits behind your site. It’s the “back-end” – the place where you input the info, pictures, design and other bits that make up a site. It’s sometimes known as the CMS (Content Management System.) Oh, and it’s free.
There are a few ways to get WordPress on your site. Most of hosting providers offer packages where you pay them to do it. But you could do it yourself. If you need help you could call your hosting service and ask them to step you through clicking the right buttons in their ‘panel’ to get it up. (Which is what I did years ago to get my first site up.)
Once you’ve got WordPress up and running, you need to go to the ‘Settings’ in the WordPress dashboard, then to ‘Reading’, and change the settings to ‘static front page’. This simple step turns what is essentially a blog into a website.
The great thing about WordPress is that mere mortals can work it. No coding or geekiness is required to put content into it. If you’re smart enough to figure out how to use a new mobile phone, you’ll pick up how to use WordPress to get material on your site.
As for the design, you can choose from a range of free design templates for your site.
And by the way, the days of being held hostage to a web-designer that charges $200 to change a date on your site are over!! Wordpress gives you the power to run your site yourself to make simple changes.
YOU absolutely need to be the one driving your website. Your website is a crucial marketing tool. Not just a piece of I.T.
The other great thing about WordPress is that it’s Google-friendly. It does some search engine grunt work for you. You just need to be smart about the words you put into it.
3. Work out what words customers use to search online – use the ‘Keyword Planner’ (free)
The phrases people use when they search online are called “keywords”.
You can get your head around the keywords people use when they’re searching online by using Google’s free Keyword Planner.
Put in the Planner the words you think people may be using for each of your products or services. (Better still, ask your existing customers what words they would use in search and put them in.)
The Keyword Planner will tell you how many searches there’s been for those phrases. And, importantly, it’ll give ‘related searches’ – other words people are using and how many searches there’s been for those words too.
From there you can put together a shortlist of phrases that best describe each of your products & services and get a significant number of searches.
4. Put your keywords in key places on your website (free)
You obviously need to fill in the detail about your business on your website – in the WordPress back-end. As you’re doing so, be mindful of the keywords you use on each page.
As a general rule of thumb you should put your top keywords where you can, but without making your website look like a keyword stuffed mess. Your website still needs to read well for human beings, not just search engine machines.
At the same time, there are some important places to focus on for google. Places where you should clearly and succinctly put your keywords – like the:
– title for pages and posts
– link address for pages and posts (also known as the ‘url’ or ‘permalink’)
– tagline for your site (which is in the WordPress settings)
– name of photo files you upload
If you do this it’ll help Google find you. Google can’t find you if the words people use to search simply aren’t on there.
One word of warning: don’t get greedy with your keywords i.e. don’t try to optimise the pages of your site for a vast array of phrases. This will confuse Google.
Choose the optimum phrase for each page and focus – make it simple, clear and unique what each page of your site is about. This is particularly important when it comes to your products and services.
5. Create separate web pages for individual products or services (free)
For each major product or service your business offers, create a new page on your site. (You can do that in the ‘Pages’ section of WordPress.) Why? So Google can find it when people search for that kind of product or service.
What are the words people use to find that kind of product or service? Use the Keyword Planner to help you figure it out. For the different product pages you should end up with a distinct set of keywords.
The places to put those words in WordPress are: the page’s title, the page’s link address, and the name of the photo files you upload to that page.
For example, you can see here on the Media School site we have a separate web page for each of our major courses e.g. the Social Media course, Linkedin training and Blogging course. The title and link address are distinct and keyword focused for each. So if you search for ‘social media course’, this helps put the Media School’s Social Media course page in the running.
6. Get the Yoast plugin for your site (free)
A plugin is a little piece of software adds extra functionality to your site. Yoast is designed to help you get higher in search engines.
One of the important things it does is prompt you to improve key elements of your site for search engine optimisation. That includes: being clear about your focus keyword phrase for each page and getting that phrase in important places like the page title and description. It will even give you a preview of what your search result will look like when it comes up in Google and help you write it to the correct length.
This recommendation is probably “geekiest” one here, but definitely worth it. A lot of the Search gurus swear by Yoast.
To install Yoast, go to ‘plugins’ in the WordPress dashboard. Hit add new plugin, search for Yoast and install.
7. Register your business on local business listings (free)
One of the big things Google uses in ranking websites is the quantity and quality of links coming into a site.
How do you get links to your site?
The best way is to acquire links “organically” – meaning people link to your site because they like the awesome content on your site and they’ve given you a link. More on how to do that in the next point.
In the meantime, you can pick up some easy, chunky links by registering your business (and your website) on a few large local business directories. For example in Australia: StartLocal, TrueLocal, AussieWeb, and HotFrog.
The other place is industry bodies for the field you’re working in. Often they’ll have a register that can give you a link.
8. Create great ‘content’ that helps your customers (free, mostly)
Another increasingly important factor Google uses to determine where your website ranks in their results is how useful is it? Is there content on the site which really helps people with issues and questions they’re struggling with?
Think about your customers’ problems. What are the things they most commonly get stuck on or need help with in your field? Then think about your own expertise. Of all your customers’ problems, which could you answer easily and well?
Put convincing answers to burning customer questions on your website – in a blog section.
To give you an example, in my courses I get small business owners who know they should be doing internet marketing, but haven’t got the foggiest where to start. Hence this article! (Or rather blog post!)
I’ve done a long piece in this case, but it doesn’t have to be this detailed. You could do something simple – even a screen length is ok and better than nothing. It doesn’t have to be all writing too. It could be short – with photos, or with a video or even audio.
I’ve said this is free, but obviously it will take a little time. That said, you should be aware things are going this way online – toward “content marketing”. And if you do it well, it will pay off.
9. Encourage social media shares of your site’s pages and posts (free)
Another factor Google considers when ranking websites is their popularity on social media sites. (This is along the lines of what I was saying about links earlier. Google uses it as a gauge – if page is getting likes, tweets and share there must be something good happening there.)
Maybe you’re on Facebook – using it purely socially. That can be a good starting point.
Once you’ve got your product page up on your website or written a blog post, share it with your friends on Facebook. Let them know you’ve been working hard to get your new site up and ask them for feedback. This gets you off the starting line.
Maybe you’re on Linkedin too? Or you’ve heard it? It’s a network (in a way like Facebook), but focussed on business and careers. It’s another place you can share your pages and posts – with your professional network.
There’s a heap more you can do on the social media front. Other platforms where you can share content and where you can build a following for your business (rather than you personally.)
10. Get your business on social media (free)
Social media can help with search ranking, but it can also be a source of direct traffic to your website. Here’s an ultra crash course.
Facebook is the Goliath of the social media world. It’s where a lot of people spend time online. You can set up a Facebook ‘Business Page’ for your business and share content via this Page. That way you can build a following of people genuinely interested in what your business is up to (and not bombard your friends.)
There are other social media platforms too – each of which has a different slant to them. If you bear in mind the flavour and purpose of each, they can help you raise awareness of your business, bring traffic to your website, and add “link juice” to your search ranking.
Quick tip: if you’re new to all this, try to do one or two social media platforms well, rather than trying to do many. Also, focus on the platforms where your customers are likely to be hanging out.
More about how to make social media work for your business in our social media course.
11. Register your business on Google My Business (free)
Have you ever seen a map come up on page 1 of a google search? The businesses pinpointed on the map got there by registering themselves with Google My Business.
Give yourself a shot at coming up too by registering your business. (This also gives you another quality link by the way – again for free.)
Once you’ve got your listing up, you can increase your chances of it appearing in searches by filling out all the detail, uploading some good photos, and encouraging past customers to write a review of your business. These things appear on Google maps for potential customers. They help give customers a better feel for your business and gain the confidence to go with you.
You can see an example of how visuals help provide a feel for a business via the photos of Media School on our Google Business Page.
12. Encourage customers to write an online review (free)
More people are reading and weighing up reviews online when comparing products and services and deciding who to go with.
It’s worth taking the time to encourage your customers to write a review. In many industries, it’s still early days and simply having some reviews will set you apart from other businesses.
The best time to ask your customers is just after they’ve used your service and it’s still fresh in their heads. And of course, it’s a good idea to nab people who are genuine and genuinely interested in what you’re doing.
For many businesses the best place to get reviews is Google. The starting point is to get your business up on Google My Business. Then email customers a link to your new ‘About’ page where they can write a review. You can see an example here – reviews of Media School on our Google Business Page.
Often snippets of these reviews will appear in Google search results – on the Google map. Reviews can be especially important if you’re competing locally.
There are other places where people can write reviews too. This can vary by the industry you’re in. For example, if you’re in a travel related business you’d want to encourage customers to write reviews on TripAdvisor.
You can also get reviews for your business on Facebook. An example here – reviews of Media School on our Facebook Business Page.
13. Start an email list on MailChimp (free, mostly)
Email is a simple, free way to start connecting online. You’ve probably even started emailing people you know to get the word out about your business. Obvious, right?
But it pays to do it properly. MailChimp is a professional email marketing platform. It’s free for up to 2,000 emails and while you’re sending less than 12,000 emails a month. (Way more than you’ll need for some time.)
The advantages of a service like MailChimp include: the ability to address each person by their first name, less chance of getting zapped by spam filters and better monitoring of the success of your emails.
14. Put a MailChimp sign-up form on your website (free)
Another useful thing you can do with MailChimp is embed an email sign-up widget on your site.
Once people start visiting your website, they may even like, or be interested in, what you’re doing. (They could be prospective customers or “leads” as they say in marketing.) But who exactly are they? If they bounce off your site with no contact you will never know.
One way to find out is to encourage them to provide their email address.
You may have noticed in your own surfing of the net websites keen to get your email address. It’s because they see you as a potential lead for future business and want to stay in contact with you.
When you get further down the track with your internet marketing, you could do what many of these sites are doing – provide free content which gives visitors a better incentive for signing up to your email.
But for now, a starting point is to have a simple email signup form on your site. You’ll see we’ve done this at the bottom of our website. And more prominently on course pages.
How do you do it? Mailchimp has advice on how to set up a sign-up form for your site. Copy the code and paste it into a ‘text’ widget in WordPress. (In the Dashboard, go to ‘Appearance’, then ‘Widgets’.)
15. Email useful content (free)
Once you’ve got your email list going, then what? What do you email?
If you just send selling messages your email is going to get trashed. (You know this already.)
Instead, be useful and help your potential customers. Send answers to their problems. To the things they’re stuck on in your field. The things you know about.
Back to point 8: provide useful content (this time by email.) In your email write a snapshot of that great blog post you’ve written and provide a link to it (to take readers back to your website.)
This process is what the marketers call “nurturing” your potential customers. Later, after you’ve built their trust, you can float your product or service as a further solution. They will be more likely to buy from you when they feel you know what you’re talking about.
16. Get Google Analytics on your website (free)
How is your website performing? Where is traffic coming from (social media, Google search, links in email, others sites?) What pages or posts are readers interested in? How long are they spending on those pages and posts? What search terms are being used to find your site?
Google Analytics is a free tool to help you gauge what’s working.
And some bonus tips …
17. Make it easy for people to contact you
There’s nothing like speaking to a real person – especially when you’re closer to buying something. Make your phone and email strong and clear – so it’s it easy for people to contact you. And give them a “call to action” as they say in the marketing jargon. (Make it clear you want to hear from them.)
18. Put a Google map on your site
Having customers find you is fundamental to “getting business in the door”.
Show your location on your website via Google Maps. Simply search Google Maps for your address (or your business if you’ve done Step 7), then click on the link button (chain icon). Copy and paste the code into WordPress on an appropriate page e.g. an About page or your front page.
19. Check how your website and email work on mobile
Almost half of internet usage is on mobile phone or tablet devices. That includes people checking their email and doing online searches.
If you’ve built your website on WordPress it should come up well. Most WordPress sites do, but you should double check that the design you’ve chosen is working ok. If you’re doing an email campaign, do some tests and see how it looks in email on your phone. (Mailchimp lets you send test emails.)
There’s a lot to absorb here I know. Take Arthur Ashe’s advice: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Start with the basics (at the top of the post), then chip away over time with the others. If you do you’ll be amazed to see your business appear in Google and that things will begin to happen.
As for me, I’m not at all a geek. In fact, I really don’t like a lot of the technical stuff. But I did most of this myself. These simple steps got my business off the ground, by getting it on the internet. You can do it too.
If it’s all too much and you need help, you could contact Vernon at Phlow. (Vernon is a techie. He’s my go-to guy when I get stuck. And like you, I do. )
At least now you know what you need to get done.
Have I missed some basics? Got any relevant tips yourself? Leave a comment below.
For more free advice, sign up to our mailing list in the right-hand column or at the bottom. (Coming up more posts on social media marketing.)