Ok, so you’ve decided to go it alone. You’re going to turn your dream into your income, go from village fete to supermarket shelf. You have the product that everyone wants and the expertise to make it even better. You have the vision and the determination. Great start. But do you have the customers and is there a whole market out there not hearing your message? The delivery of a business message is crucial but, if you’re anything like most startups, you may be lacking in tried and tested marketing and advertising experience. Tight budgets often mean that we are forced to do as much of the work as possible, from strategy to implementation and so, when we go it alone, we have to learn new skills to promote ourselves – and fast. However, today’s freelancers and small business owners should be very proud of themselves as stats show that we are rapidly becoming increasingly savvy about how we pitch to the wider world.

The cost versus effectiveness debate of advertising has led to a face off between the more traditional forms (print, radio and even TV ads) and the new kid on the block, online marketing presence. And the Web is winning – big time. A poll on PeoplePerHour.com confirms that over 60% of users prefer to market online, enjoying tangible results from their investment. With UK online marketing spending up by 47% to £2,016 million last year, that’s a good club to be a member of. Direct mail scores an easy second place in the poll, with print ads plodding along in third. Indeed, industry experts are pretty much agreed that a combination of online and direct marketing (promotional material directed through mail or telephone to individual households or businesses) is a winning one. In the 2007 Global Marketing Effectiveness Report, direct marketing out-performed other forms of ‘old school’ promotion such as PR, newspaper, billboard and TV advertising and yet only 25% of marketing budgets are spent on this form of communication, with many seeing direct marketing as nothing more than glorified cold calling. The resounding benefit of direct marketing is that it is targeted and measurable and can be as creative as you like.

It is this same precision/branding combo that has led to the surge in Internet advertising of late. A poll of US citizens last year confirmed what TV bosses are fearing the most: 78% of respondents said that they had given up TV time to spend time in front of the computer; 24% said they were forfeiting eating or sleeping to browse the Web. Internet users tend to be more educated, with 75% having graduated from college as opposed to 45% of the population, according to a study by SRI Consulting. They tend to have a significantly higher disposable income to spend on your product and, if you still need convincing, banner ads generate 200% more of a branding impact on your audience than a single exposure to an advertisement in a magazine or on television.

That said, banner ads are nowadays actively discouraged by those in the know, so it’s important to get advice on how best to advertise online. Thankfully, this can be done on even the tightest of budgets. Success isn’t simply down to paying out vast sums to a search engine optimizer: it’s about simple research and knowing what you are offering and to whom. Companies asked to measure the effectiveness of their online efforts rated it thus: 49% Search Engines and Directories; 22% Button Links; 18% Online Press Releases; 17% Reciprocal Ads & Links; 10% Affiliate Programs; 6% Banner Advertising. It’s official then, paid placement or pay per click campaigns – again targeted and measurable – is the way to go. With low entry costs, sometimes starting from as little as 1p, paid placement search enables any company to get listed in the search results on some of the busiest websites, usually as ‘sponsored links’ to the right of the results. Essentially, you ‘bid’ on search terms that you predict your potential customers will use to find your business and your site is then listed in order of bid price on major websites. You only pay once a prospect actually clicks through to your site – converting their visit into a sale is the next step – but it means that all businesses are equal in advertising their services and products. Crucially, the fact that people who find you are likely to have been looking for what you are offering in the first place means that the lead is far more likely to convert to a sale. While many companies offer this service, Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, and Microsoft adCenter were the largest network operators as of 2007.

Top tips:

Make sure your search term, title and description and website are directly relevant to each other and include the search term in either your title and description, preferably in both.

Give a direct URL to the relevant content. This is called deeplinking and is proven to lead to more conversions.

Do not use superlatives.

Ask the campaign provider you use for recommended search terms and then track leads in real time so you can identify the terms that work and ditch the ones that don’t.



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