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Pulling Your Customers on the Internet

Traditional marketing is all about "pushing" products. Find out why internet marketing is all about the "pull" and how you can learn to do it right.

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A reader sent in the following question recently in regardsto attracting more visitors--and buyers--to their site:

"I run a small, one-person business sellingfootball-related collectibles. I've had my own website since1992--almost one of the first people to have a site. Over theyears, of course, technology has drastically changed, and mypositioning on internet searches like Google has droppedsignificantly as more and more people are getting into this game.How can I improve on this without spending an arm and a leg? Do youknow of anyone who can offer improvements and make those changes onan existing website? I would ideally love to get a focus group tocritique my website, but I know that can run into a small fortune.Do you have any ideas, suggestions or references to help out ussmall guys?"

Hold on a second: You've had a website since 1992 and onlyrecently has your position in the search engine rankingsgone down? Must be one heck of a site!

There was a time, not too long ago, when I used to think thephrase "internet marketing" was a contradiction in terms.Traditional marketing is all about "pushing" products toconsumers, and on the internet, you can't "push" orforce viewers to see things they don't want to see. An entireindustry of software products--from antispam filters to "popup" blockers--has sprouted up overnight for the specificpurpose of preventing marketers from getting their messages throughto you when you're online.

You can't "push" on the internet, but what youcan do is "pull" them to your site. On the web, aconsumer runs free like a wild stallion, going wherever his headtakes him. You're the one who must "corral" thefree-range consumers and lead them to your water.

When people go looking for stuff on the internet, what do theyuse? A search engine, of course. That's where your advertisingfocus should be--letting the consumers think they've found youand have made the "free choice" to click on a link toyour site and see what you've got to offer.

The first thing you have to do is optimize your site for searchengines, so that when people go looking for the stuff you sell,your website shows up as one of the top ten "hits" on thesearch query results page. This is as much an art as exact science,and it involves selecting the most common keywords people use tosearch for your stuff and then making sure those keywords areembedded in your site so the search engine crawlers can findthem.

Since you have limited funds, it may be worth your while tolearn how to do this yourself. Several how-to books exist on thissubject, most notably Search Engine Visibility by Staci Thurow,Search Engine Advertising by CatherineSeda, and Search Engine Optimization for Dummies byPeter Kent.

If doing anything yourself on a computer gives you the willies,however, there is a growing industry of search engine optimization(SEO) consultants who, for fees ranging from a few hundred dollarsto a few thousand dollars, can use advanced statistical methods tohelp identify the keywords that will drive search engine traffic toyour site. A search for "SEO Consultant" on any searchengine will yield about 500,000 results, many of whom are computerprofessionals in India and other parts of the world who may bewilling to provide world-class service for a much lower rate thantheir U.S. counterparts. The Organization of Search Engine OptimizationProfessionals was formed in 2001 to develop best practices andstandards for this industry--if you go to their website and clickon "SEO Consultant Directory," you'll get a list oftheir members nearest you.

Once you've optimized your site for the search engines, youdon't just sit there waiting for the hits to happen. It'snow time to engage in search engine marketing--creating ads foryour site that will appear next to the search query results whensomeone is searching for the stuff you sell.

Internet marketing expert CatherineSeda recommends you start with pay-per-click advertising onYahoo!, as it's easier than Google for new advertisers tofigure out. When you buy a pay-per-click ad on Yahoo!, Google orany one of the major search engines, you're bidding forplacement on that engine's search results. You create a short(usually less than 50 words) ad, tell the search engine how muchyou're willing to pay for each "click" from the ad toyour website, and that's pretty much it. When a person issearching for something you sell, and they see your ad, they clickon the link to your site, and the search engine automaticallydebits your credit or ATM card for the amount you indicated youwere willing to pay. (Full disclosure: Most search engines charge aminimum monthly fee, currently $5 for Yahoo!, whether you get anyclicks or not.) Simple enough, right? Well . . .

Let's say I decide to place an ad for "small businessattorney" on Yahoo! I create a wonderful ad and offer to paythat search engine ten cents (the minimum amount for ads on Yahoo!)each time someone clicks on my ad. My ad will appear on Yahoo! allright--but on page 50 of the search query results for "smallbusiness attorney". How many times have you searched forsomething and looked at the 50th page of the query results?

To get anywhere with search engine marketing, your ad needs toappear on the first or second page of the query results. For thatto happen with my "small business attorney" ad, I'dhave to pay the search engine about $50 per click. That can add upto a significant bill each month in a real hurry, and there'sno assurance that anyone who clicks my ad and gets to my site(triggering a $50 fee for the search engine) will actually buysomething once they get there.

So how do you get around that? Simple: Make your ad as narrowand targeted as possible. While a ten-cent ad for "smallbusiness attorney" won't get me anywhere, a ten-cent adfor "NY small business attorney" will get me on page twoof the query results. If I raise the ante to 25 cents, I'm onpage one. Of course, that narrows the range of searchers, but theones looking for a small-business attorney in New York are the onesI really want anyway. I'll get fewer "hits" from thesearch engine ad, but (hopefully) a higher percentage of seriousfolks who'll actually contact me once they get to my site andsee how truly wonderful I am.

Once you've listed some pay-per-click ads on Yahoo!, whatnext? According to Seda, if you're selling services, startblogging. Create your own blog to show that you're an industryleader. By sharing helpful information (or just some wild, crazy,cool stuff), you'll invite blog readers to hire you. On theweb, nothing beats "buzz marketing"--a friend, colleagueor someone other than my mom or my PR person telling you "Hey,Joe, you've got to check out this guy's crazy blog.He's a little off the wall, but he really gets what we'retrying to do here!" For advice on blogging, start withBlogging for Dummies by Brad Hill andBlog Marketing by Jeremy Wright.

If you're selling products, look for websites that alreadyhave heavy traffic and try to become their affiliate. They let youhave an ad on their home page in exchange for putting an ad on yourhome page (plus perhaps some cash). For example, if you'reselling antique toys from the 1800s and early 1900s, an ad on theAntiqueToy World magazine's website, will be worth its weightin gold.

Here's a tip: Look for high-traffic sites that are offeringstuff that complements--but isn't the same as--yourmerchandise. One of the most successful web merchants in the"vintage art poster" market doesn't sell posters atall, at least not on the web. Rather, he makes and sells thehigh-end "acetate free" folders you use to store vintageposters that you don't want to frame and hang on your wall.Just about every "vintage poster" site has a link to himbecause all vintage poster collectors need these folders, and Idon't think he paid more than a few dollars (maximum) for allthat advertising.

Finally, if you're selling clothing, house wares or any sortof collectibles, you should seriously consider opening an eBay Store. For amonthly fee starting at $15.95, you can list dozens of items oneBay, and for a little more, eBay will even help promote your eBayStore to the major search engines so you don't have to figureout the finer points of pay-per-click advertising yourself. Haveyou ever searched for something on the internet and hadsomeone's eBay Store or auction listing pop up as one of thetop listings? Enough said. A new book, Launching a Successful eBay Store, by RonMansfield, gives you all the details.

Cliff Ennico is a syndicated columnist, author and host ofthe PBS television series MoneyHunt. His latest book isSmall Business Survival Guide (Adams Media).This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice,which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed inyour state. Copyright 2005 Clifford R. Ennico. Distributed byCreatorsSyndicate Inc.

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