Internet Marketing 101: Putting an Online Twist on an Offline Model
If you're just starting out in internet marketing, you probably feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available. The learning curve is less like a hill and more like a cliff! If you've been at this business for a while, you may be frustrated that you're still not making any money, or not enough money. You may be wondering why no one is reading your ads, or why all those visitors to your site are not buying anything and not returning. Where do you start? How do you convert the casual visitor to a return customer?
Relax and breathe. None of us was born an internet marketer. We all have to start someplace. A great place to start is by looking at something you already DO know, offline business. We all shop somewhere. Pick a store you're familiar with, maybe the grocery store where you shop at least once a week. Pick a small store to focus on, not a huge supermarket. Now pretend that's just an empty lot or building, and you're an aspiring grocer. What do you need to do?
There's 3 big steps you need to take.
1) First you have to have a crystal clear picture in your mind of exactly what you want to do. What do you want to sell, and what do you want your store to look like? Spend some time dreaming, so you can see everyone who is in your store and what they are buying. Your store needs four walls, a floor, doors and windows, and a roof. You need to decide on size, the first step is to figure out what you want to sell. You think about what people in your town need and buy regularly, the availability of these products in other well established stores, and decide on your niche and your location. Maybe it's bread, canned goods, cereals, candy, ice cream, soda, milk, and cigarettes on a busy corner near a residential area with no other store in walking distance. Maybe it's a natural food store in a yuppie neighborhood. Maybe it's gas and snack foods near a highway.
2) Secondly, you have to understand what you need to have in place to make that dream come true, and how you're going to do it. What does your store need by way of infrastructure? You need shelves, freezers and refrigerated cases, a counter and a cash register. Probably you need a small office and bathroom as well. You need electricity, lighting, heat, air conditioning, desk, chair, phone, fax, maybe some music, paint, flooring, security cameras and so on.
Once you decide on the layout of the store, you will know what size of a building you need to build, buy or rent. How are you going to finance this, and how will you afford to stock your store, from savings or from a loan?
3) Assuming that you now have a fully-stocked and operational store, how will you get people to shop there? You could advertise in newspapers, radio and tv; put up signs; offer door prizes and/or sales; offer free advice and information (recipes, menus, shopping lists, health and nutrition information, diet information); sponsor events (a booksigning by a famous cookbook author, co-sponsor a food related festival); build familiarity and trust by joining social, charity or business clubs, or volunteering at local events.
Fine and good, you say, but I still don't know how to make money online. Let's take the example we just developed and convert it to online business.
Gazing Into Your Crystal Ball
1) First the concept. What do YOU want to do? What do the people that frequent the internet want? First and foremost, right behind email, people online are looking for information. There are places online you can go to research hot topics, such as Overture's Keyword Selector Tool. Here you can see how many times a word or phrase was searched in the last month. You can do a Google search for these terms to see how many websites are already available sharing that information. As you keep narrowing down your focus, balance between your passion, what other people want, and what's already available. A very small niche with very little competition with targeted promotions can become a very lucrative business.
Your Shopping List
2) Now the infrastructure, the Short List:
a) internet real estate = a website. This can be an affiliate site or your own. You can get a free website with no outside advertising here: http://www.finitesite.com
b) products: No matter what your interests, there's an affiliate program with products that fit; you may want to sell related ebooks, Amazon.com books, etc. Clickbank is a good place to find electronic information products.
c) tools: you will need a tracking system (known as a link tracker); an autoresponder; a link rotator.
d) knowledge: you will need a splash page program and/or some basic html and advertising knowledge. A free html tutorial: http://www.pagetutor.com
e) an expense budget, no matter how small at first.
You Need More Than Two Cans and a String
3) Promotion: people enter your world (the internet) via a browser. Since "the internet" is intangible, many people confuse the vehicle (AOL or Yahoo!, for example) with the destination itself, the internet. So let's be gentle with our potential visitors and make their journey from landing pad to your neighborhood as effortless, pleasant and convenient as possible.
If they are interested in buying widgets online, they will soon realize that there are a million widget salesmen out there. So they start narrowing down their search, and they comparison shop. First and foremost, they are information gatherers. Where do they go first? Probably to a search engine. Then they start exploring. They visit a site; if it fits their needs, they may bookmark it before they move on. When they move on, they may return to their Google or Yahoo! search results, or they may follow a link off of the page they visited.
So getting yourself listed in the search engines is important. This does not require your own domain name, although it's the best route to go, but a website where you can control your page content is essential. A search engine will not list a replicated affiliate website, such as http://any-old-program.com/aff_id=102109 but it will gladly list http://your-domain.com/any-old-program. Search engines want new, original information, so write something original on your website about every program you join. Link your articles, etc. to your web page, then link that page to your affiliate program.
Your own domain name, carefully chosen, will help to brand either your name or your website name, such as wallywalton.com wallyswidgets.com widgetworld.com etc. If you get a free website with finitesite.com, your url will be finitesite.com/wallywalton or something like that. It might be finitesite.com/member/wallywalton -- I forget, it's been a while since I had a site with them :) With some work, you can get a site with a url like this into the search engines. It's a great way to start if you can't afford domain name, hosting etc.
Sooner or later, your site visitor will be ready for a purchase. Maybe they will drive off to the nearest hardware store armed with all their new information and buy a widget there. If they found your site in the search engine, visited and bookmarked it, maybe they'll return and buy from you. Maybe they'll buy from the site they went to after your site. But 9 times out of 10, once they've left your site, they're gone forever.
And Now the Quiz, Purely Common Sense
How do you get them to come back? Here's a pop quiz for you, choose the best answer (it's a no-brainer):
a) offering so much valuable information, they bookmark your site and return on their own;
b) building so much trust and familiarity that, when they think of widgets, or of asking for an opinion, or for buying anything widget-like, they think of you (that's called branding your name);
c) promoting your website so much that, when they think of widgets, they automatically think of your website (that's also branding, the name of your site in this case)
d) have a mailing list they can subscribe to (this might be the online equivalent of a guest book in a store) and receive updates on information on your website;
e) have contests on your site;
f) endorse other people's sites and products, with an appropriate byline including your own url;
g) give away things;
h) hang out in places online that your potential visitors frequent (forums, bulletin boards, chat rooms, conferences, seminars) and make friends, give away free information and helpful links and tools, include your url in your signature where allowed;
i) blogging and using RSS feeds to keep people thinking of you and your widgets;
j) being a part of the search engine revolution and exploring the world of tagging, or social bookmarks (creating your own search engine with other like-minded anarchists :)
k) all of the above.
Each of these concept, infrastructure, and promotion ideas could be an article in its own right; but this is your basic outline for building your online business. The ultimate power of the internet is to level the playing field for both major corporations, little ol' you, and everyone in between. A business that fully utilizes the internet can throw away the purchased leads list, because cold calling and cold emailing is a thing of the past. Using the internet to its fullest business potential means putting your message where your potential customers can find it, and letting them come emailing, looking and calling for you.
Be sure to take advantage of the unique power of the internet, and keep the "internet" in your internet marketing