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Finding Customers Fast

Use these four smart ways to increase leads and sales this summer.

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Ah, the lazy days of summer. Kids are out of school, families take vacations, and life slows down a bit. Sounds idyllic, doesn't it? But if your business slows down as well, you may be facing a slump in income that'll make it hard to bounce back when fall arrives. Don't wait--now's a great time to invest in programs that will yield quick results plus continue to bring steady sales in the coming months.

For many types of businesses, the key to shortening the sales cycle is to find prospects who've already started the buying process. That means you need to reach out to prospects who are actively looking for what you market. A few years back, that might have required investing heavily in the print Yellow Pages, which has traditionally absorbed a disproportionately huge percentage of small-business owners' marketing budgets. Now, however, there are many fast and more affordable ways to reach customers who are in "" mode. And these methods can often out-produce traditional print Yellow Pages when it comes to lead and sales.

Here are four ways to reach customers who are actively looking for what you market:

1. Advertise using paid search. Increasingly, successful local businesses have websites and use online marketing campaigns to drive traffic and sales. Online placed by locally based businesses totaled $2.7 billion last year, according to media research and consulting firm Borrell Associates, and paid search is one category that will continue to grow. After all, nearly 85 percent of all perform online searches. These are customers who have an idea of what they want to buy and are looking for the right vendor.

When your best prospects search online for what you market, does your company show up near the top of the search results? If not, you may be losing sales since sites that appear on the first page of a search result may attract as much as six times the traffic and double the sales of others. Advertising using paid search with , Yahoo! or other major search engines ensures that your message will appear near the top of search results and receive maximum attention from online searchers.

2. Optimize your website. Another way to turn up near the top of search results is to optimize your site. While it may take a bit of attention and patience, optimization can improve your site's ranking in organic (or natural) search results, and positively impact your site traffic and sales. In fact, that was the result for approximately 3,000 marketers surveyed by MarketingSherpa, who said organic clicks increased an average of 73 percent in the six months after optimization.

You can improve your organic search rankings by: increasing inbound links to your site from high-ranking referrers, sprinkling keyword phrases throughout your content, and creating keyword-rich title tags and meta tags. Since the more links you can acquire to your site from prominent referrers the higher your site will rank, it's important to obtain them from prominent industry associations or Web portals. It's also essential to sprinkle keyword phrases your prospects are most likely to search for throughout the content on all your Web pages. Include your most important keyword phrases in your title tags (these are what the search engines use as the titles of your listings in search results). And be certain to create "description" and "keywords" meta tags that include your most important keyword phrases. If you're targeting local traffic, optimize your site by adding local search terms to your tags.

3. Try online Yellow Pages. The Yellow Pages Association and comScore recently released a new study that claims while more consumers searching for local services or merchants turn to search engines than internet Yellow Pages, those who use online Yellow Pages are more likely to convert to buyers--at least in five categories, including the automotive industry, financial services, drugstores, home and garden, and restaurants. In these categories, users who became buyers spent more money per purchase. So while search engines accounted for 66 percent of local searches and internet Yellow Pages accounted for just 34 percent, some businesses may find the online Yellow Pages to be a more cost-effective, high-return option for bringing in qualified prospects and sales.

4. Advertise in print search corridors. The "demassification" of America has led to media diversity--and an explosion of newspapers and magazines that address every topic or special interest imaginable. A search corridor medium is created when the advertising and editorial focuses on a single topic. For example, the "Business" and "Home and Garden" sections of your major newspaper are search corridors because readers know they can look there specifically for information in their areas of interest. Suppose you wanted to buy a computer. You'd look in the section of the newspaper where most of the computer ads are clustered and compare prices--and you'd be shopping in a search corridor.

Which publications does your target audience turn to when they want information on your types of products and services? Do those publications offer a section for direct response advertising or other shopping or search opportunities? To build sales fast, the trick is to place effective advertising in the media your prospects turn to when they know what they want--from model boats to prescription eyewear--and are looking for the right place to buy it. It's the best way to keep sales hot this summer.

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