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2009-05-17 by  Judy Shapiro

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I come from the traditional advertising world where packaged-goods titans like P&G would buy millions in mass advertising which would stimulate billions in sales. A predictable, reliable engine. But then the Internet happened. It opened up virtually all heretofore closed systems: distribution, marketing, promotion. It held the promise of creating a level playing field for all types of merchants – large and small. This was the promise that drove the explosive growth of e-commerce for the past 5 years. While this dream still holds tremendous allure, it has yet to live up to its promise because online business success is often a function of big brand campaigns designed to buy consumer trust, the key ingredient needed for conversion. This leaves most online businesses at a distinct disadvantage. That’s why the notion of the Internet as the great level playing field is, sadly, largely a myth. To make matters worse, while the big sites were buying their way to e-commerce success, online businesses need to rely on “bleeding edge” internet marketing tools, like social networks, blogs and the like to grow. But they are difficult to execute, hard to measure, risky and expensive. You need staff or you need hire consultants. Either way, getting actionable results is no slam dunk. (Sidebar: please, please do not expect everything to be measurable with web analytics, nor allow yourself to fall prey to the temptation to measure everything. Only measure those things which you know you can act on, otherwise you risk falling into the “analysis paralysis” management sinkhole.) But as e-commerce continues to chart new waters, there is a chance to create a new model that transforms “bleeding edge” into mainstream marketing disciplines. It can be tricky – but if successful, it can help online merchants succeed. Start from the premise that your time is NOT FREE. Many “bleeding edge” marketing tools like blogs and pools are “free” so it is tempting to dive in head first. “ After all”, you think, “there are no out-of-pocket costs.” This is one the biggest mistakes online business owners make. Repeat after me - NO INTERNET MARKETING PROGRAM IS FREE because TIME IS MONEY!!! Think about it. Social marketing activities require a time investment such as maintaining/ updating blogs, creating group pages, responding to comments from other bloggers. And any time you or your staff spend on these social networking activities means you/they are NOT doing something else proven to earn income. Instead, if you are going to start a “free” internet marketing campaign, do this before you begin: estimate the amount of time it will take to execute the campaign and come up with an hourly rate for you or your staff’s time. You will quickly see how much money you really are spending on these “free” activities. Building trust for your e-commerce site is Job #1. You may not be able to afford to buy lots of banner ads, but there are powerful and cost effective ways to convey trust – most notably with credible site seals from organizations like the Better Business Bureau (BBB), or from reputable Certification Authorities like Comodo. One of my favorites is actually a free site seal that e-merchants can use from UserTrust. This seal is part of a program that delivers a free customer feedback platform, where users can leave their comments about your site to increase trust. And best yet – it’s totally free. Surrender to the realities of PPC marketing programs – fraud happens. The Internet permits access, but it also makes fraud harder to stop. This is especially true of PPC (Pay-Per-Click) campaigns hosted on platforms, such as Google Adwords or Yahoo! Search Marketing, where anyone can maliciously click your ads repeatedly to drain your daily budget. Fraud happens. But this should not stop you from investing in PPC campaigns, because these programs can really work, especially with the fraud tools that major search engines have implemented. It may be helpful to remember that while in “mainstream” mass media there is no click fraud, there is “audience waste” – and lots of it. John Wanamaker, a famous 19th century retailer and entrepreneur once commented, “I know half of my advertising budget is wasted – I just don’t know which half.” This applies to internet marketing too. Remember that even with waste; you are still going to make more money than if you do nothing. So get over the fear and get on with investing in your business. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be conquered – but you need to do your homework. SEO can be technically challenging, but if you train yourself to understand the basic dynamics, then you can purchase these services wisely.

  • Keyword research forms the foundation of all your SEO efforts. Find out which phrases drive your categories and strategically place them in places on your site, such as titles, headers, in page copy, etc. Do this in a way that makes sense to both users of your site and search engine spiders alike.
  • Focus on researching your direct competition and/or companies that offer similar services.
  • Refresh your site with good content that includes those precious keywords.
  • Create and edit pages that are easy to read for search engines. And then submit your website navigational information to various search engines in the form of a XML site map.
  • Aggressively pursue a linking strategy (this is where other sites, blogs, forums, etc. link back to you).
  • Submit your site to directories, such as the Open Directory Project.
  • Use a website analytics tool, such as Google Analytics to measure results.

With these core principles you can find services that reasonably deliver a competent SEO program for you. Engage in easy social networking tactics (and these won’t cost a bundle in time):

  • Consistently scope out the competition and be sure you know how you are better/different or offer more value. Make sure your web content reflects that competitive advantage.
  • Comment occasionally on a particularly relevant topic in trade journals.
  • Create some buzz about your company with free PR activities. Write the releases yourself and distribute them via free PR networks like TheOpenPress, PRlog, 1888pressrelease and myfreePR.
  • Create a presence in a few social networking scenes to see how they work. Some suggested communities include: 360.yahoo.com, paltalk.com, spaces.live.com, myspace.com, facebook.com, hi5.com, etc.

So learn to embrace the bleeding edge until it becomes mainstream. After all, they don’t call it the bleeding edge for nothing – it can get messy, very messy. But by making bleeding edge mainstream, you get a lean, clean marketing machine.

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Judy Shapiro

Judy Shapiro

engageSimply

Judy Shapiro is an industry veteran with deep marketing and sales experience in the technology segment. Prior to Paltalk, she held senior level positions at Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, and AT&T.In addition, Judy spent 7 years at NWAyer as VP, Account Supervisor managing key accounts including JCPenney and AT&T.This blend of client and agency experience drives her passion in uncovering new marketing technologies and understanding their value to drive business results.Her blog, http://trenchwars.wordpress.com provides insights on how to create business value on the Internet.

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