30 January, 2008
In any new business, web marketing is a vital tool of development and if utilised to its full potential can be a great form of self promotion for start-up companies.
Online marketing can consist of online newsletters, search engine marketing, online advertising campaigns and blogs as well as consistent email creation and delivery programs with measurable tracking.
However, having a well designed website is the first tentative step toward serious online marketing for your venture. Fergal O'Byrne is the CEO of the Irish Internet Association (IIA) and is forthright in his belief that the power of online marketing is second to none and should not be underestimated. The IIA is the professional body representing members who conduct their business activities via the internet. Since its foundation in 1997, the IIA has been one of the driving forces behind the promotion of the in ternet in Irish business.
When developing your business website the design layout is one of the most important elements to remember. You don't have to spend thousands on getting a well designed site. However, you do need to ensure that your site looks clean, crisp and professional.
There are differing opinions as to how a business can optimise its chances of being within the top search results. As O'Byrne reveals, if he knew the key to achieving top search engine rankings, he wouldn't have to work anymore! Known as search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM), these are the most vital elements to ensure that your site's visibility is fully enhanced, as well as a good URL (Universal Resource Locator) and domain name.
For many start-up businesses, web design may not come top of their ‘to do' list in the initial set up period. Thankfully, there are a number of finance options available when considering the development of your e-business.
Local enterprise bodies offer grants covering at least 50% of web development costs for small businesses to develop their commercial web presence. Enterprise Ireland has an e-business portal, openup.ie, with helpful tips and contacts for the development of your online business. There is also the Enterprise Ireland site ework.ie, which features databases, reports and surveys on electronic business implementation.
For the confident creatives amongst the business community there is the alternative of building your own site. There are a number of site building options out there, but the best by far is Site Kreator, says O'Byrne. This is the business solution for designing and hosting feature rich websites at a relatively low cost to a start-up. It is a fully integrated content management system where the client can change the content if and when they feel like it.
PIf you would rather put the designing end of things in the experienced hands of a web design professional the IIA offer comprehensive listings in the member's section of their website.
THE SEARCH IS ON
The use of key words in your content is one of the ways of ensuring your site gets noticed. The best strategy for start-ups is to steer clear of any commonly used, high-competition keywords and to use local phrases such as the town or county you are based in.
O'Byrne advises that if you are in the business of selling golfing equipment in Kildare for example, you must make sure to highlight the key words, golf clubs, golf balls, golf caddys as well as the locality name within the site's content.
Achieving optimum results from a search engine can sometimes take up to a year for a new website. While this may be a viable long term strategy, most new companies will not be able to achieve this, as the search engines will not rank a new site using frequently competitive keywords, such as the generic ‘hotels in Ireland'.
NAME OF THE GAME
"There are over one hundred things that Google analyses on websites but the key elements are the content and the links. You can agonise over your choice of site name but it doesn't really make a difference regarding SEO. It's more a branding issue, where people are more prone to remembering certain site names. Also, Google allows ten search words in its search box so it is advisable to use as many terms as possible in order to maximise your search," says O'Byrne.
SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is a method of paying search engines like Google and Yahoo to place your site strategically within their search results. This can be cost effective because you only pay when visitors come to your site. However, O'Byrne offers a word of warning for start-up businesses; do not to base your marketing model solely on selling advertising without having guaranteed web traffic figures. "You must have a proven track record and brand recognition, as it's very thin ice if you base your entire revenue model on advertising," he advises.
Start-up's should try and avail of links to their site from other web sites, so that it will become a mini hub of online activity. Search engines take note of this so it helps to rank your business amongst the top searches. Adding RSS web feed formats to your site as well as a hit counter will help to keep you keep track of how many people are browsing your site.
But how does a business go about promoting the fact that they have a new website up and running without creating spam? The CEO says it's vital that as a new business, you must remember not to spam, as it is illegal in Ireland. O'Byrne emphasises to literally tell everyone you know by sending out press releases and emails and remember to put your site address in your email signature. Don't go overboard on emailing every single contact that you have made in the business world as spam creates a bad reputation for your company.
Of course online networking and marketing cannot replace the traditional methods outright. If you are a small business you will still need to network with your local BNI and enterprise bodies.