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How to develop a marketing strategy for a website?
Website marketing needs as much resources as offline marketing

"We are a supplier of high-value electronic parts. After pressure from our existing customers and due to a strong desire for growth outside the United States, we have now decided to provide ecommerce capability on our website. Can we use our website for marketing our products? How can we attract new customers, particularly from overseas, where we are not known at all?"

Online commerce is rapidly growing not only for consumer products but also for products and services purchased by businesses. In fact, businesses are realizing that they can find new customers at a much lower cost if they use the web for strategic marketing. Thus, you have taken the right steps needed to grow your business outside the United States. Websites are a great vehicle for marketing today and many companies have been able to develop sizeable online businesses.  (Related link:  Ecommerce for small and medium sized businesses)

Customers typically find online stores in one or more of the following ways:

  • Through a search on a search engine like Google or Yahoo
  • By following a listing in a directory (that could be run by a search engine or a portal or an industry/trade journal, or more recently, by a directory that only has paid listings)
  • By following a link provided by other websites (these could be websites run by individuals, consulting companies, research organizations, think tanks, trade journals, newspapers, blogs, etc.)
  • By directly typing your URL if they are already familiar with your company and its URL (this can happen if you are already a well-known company or you advertise your website address often in all your print advertising plus if you list it on your product, technical literature that accompanies the product, and on business cards that your employees carry)

The number one challenge for any business trying to market on the web is attracting visitors to its website. Here is the strategy that I recommend for marketing your website:

  • If you want to rely on search engines, and you should because vast majority of people still find a website by conducting a search, you have to make sure that your website is listed in the index of the search engine. Some websites like Google make it easy (and free) to submit your website for crawling, while others charge a small fee for listing. It is worthwhile to pay the fees for listing. Search engines literally provide free advertising for you but it can take months before you are found in a search and you may never pop up in the first two or three pages. This is important since you have no control whatsoever on your page rank other than following certain techniques for web design. While search engine optimization (SEO) is fairly easy and you need not pay a specialist to do it (in most cases your webmaster should be able to do it on her/his own), there is no guarantee that you will be featured in the first two-three pages and maintain that rank over time. Thus, it is better to use some form of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising so that when potential customers search for a term that they would use to find your products, you will be definitely listed in the sponsored search results.  Since you pay only when someone clicks, these are very cost-effective compared to advertising in trade journals which are more often ignored, and if at all they are effective, they only create brand awareness.  On the other hand, when people find you through a search engine, they are much closer to completing a business transaction.  (Related article:  Ask Jeeves' entry into contextual advertising makes search engine advertising competitive)
  • Reach out to other websites that attract the type of customers that you want. For example, professional associations, trade journals, etc. You will need to work with them one-by-one to get your website listed and featured so that visitors can find your website while they are surfing these popular websites. 
  • Many website owners often write articles, review products, publish results of their findings, or just discuss whatever they wish related to your product. Often they also put links to the products/companies that they discuss. Find out these websites and approach them to put a link to your website. You can do this in many ways: you can invite them to visit your website, you can extend personal invitations to them to visit your offices so that you can introduce your products to them, you can send them samples of your products so that they are motivated to review them, or you can ask if you need to pay to get a listing on their websites.
  • Develop high quality content even if you have only an e-commerce website (and not a content-rich website often operated by magazines and trade journals). Content results in higher hits from search engines. So if you sell electronic parts, write a series of articles about the products, where/how they are used, what is the underlying technology, how to incorporate them into different applications, how can they be used in other interesting applications, etc. Such keyword-rich pages generate a lot of hits in a search and eventually you can redirect your visitors to your shopping pages. 
  • Finally, start a newsletter or electronic magazine (or ezine) that focuses on electronic parts. Develop a mailing list by asking visitors to your website to sign up. Write short, useful, and interesting articles and send it to the mailing list subscribers regularly. Ask existing subscribers to forward your e-zine to others who might find it useful. Many of them will then signup. You can also contribute articles to other websites popular among business leaders in your industry in exchange for a link to your website.

In my opinion, if you want to develop an online business, you have to dedicate resources as you would for a new sales territory. So make sure that you have sales, marketing, and technical people working on your website. You must also make sure that you are able to replicate your offline business online too in terms of customer service and technical support.

Related links:  

Search advertising strategy development    Local search marketing      When your advertising strategy needs to change

Online ad clutter bothers consumers     Leverage affiliate marketing channel for growth    How to improve online customer service?

Exploiting the Internet for new business      What to do if your website is banned by a search engine?    TV advertising declines

Digital versus print media     How to design great websites?    How to grown online media businesses?

Web design project proposal format    Birthday party portal website design    Party planning website business

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