Dear StartupNation: Our competition advertises in the Yellow Pages. But I think my newer business can be more tech savvy, so we look to our website as a crucial means of building sales. I’d like to try online advertising to get a jump. What do you suggest?
Those sounds you hear out there are the collective footsteps of thousands, nay, millions of small business owners turning to online ads to help drive business. And the method they are turning to most is centered on paid ads that accompany search engine results.
Internet search advertising can help small business owners “level the playing field” with much larger competitors. It’s a website marketing strategy many startups are using it to drive growth, and entrepreneurs love it because it is results and ROI are so easy to measure.
The trend is clear. For one thing, consumers are not letting fraud concerns stop them from shopping online, says a recent A.C. Nielsen survey. Results from the survey, commissioned by eBay, indicate that consumers plan to buy more online this year and that most believe the web is a safer place to shop than it was a year ago.
At the same time, the spread of broadband connections and other technology improvements are giving the internet advertising market a boost, with paid search engine advertising (also known as keyword advertising) via Google and Yahoo’s service stealing the spotlight.
And small businesses — especially those that already have websites — are showing a marked preference for online marketing tools over traditional methods such as Yellow Pages. Even Yellow Pages publishers themselves are making it easier for small business owners to market online. Verizon SuperPages, for example, is launching a new self-service application that lets small businesses start an online ad program without a sales person as part of their website marketing strategy. Local merchants gain more flexibility to quickly manage their ads. Florists can quickly change from prom to wedding season, or an air conditioning service can exploit an early heat wave.
Among small businesses with websites, online marketing is increasingly critical to success, says a new survey of online activities by leading web host Interland. Nearly two out of three business owners are looking to search engines, keyword advertising and e-mail marketing to help build sales. The Interland Business Barometer survey found that only 12 percent of respondents now consider Yellow Pages ads critical to driving new business.
Targeted ads attached to keyword search results are the clear winner. Their simplicity, low cost and popularity among small businesses have pushed flashy banners aside as the main method for connecting buyers and merchants online. Business owners also like the concept because you pay only when someone clicks your ad and visits your site. A prospect who reads your brief ad but doesn’t click on it costs you nothing.
Here are the basics:
You set up an account with one of the key search firms. Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing are the leaders. You’ll create a list of keywords or phrases that you want your ad to appear with, and decide how much you are willing to pay for each clickthrough. In some cases, you can pay as little as 10 to 15 cents and still get good placement. In crowded categories, the costs can go much higher. Create your online listing with a short headline and a short text description (the length of text varies between Google and Yahoo). You’ll have to comply with strict guidelines on wording of the ad, however, as both services prohibit use of superlatives like “best” or “greatest.” Ads go through varying levels of approval before they run.
You can set a monthly budget, track your results and create separate accounts for different products or services. Once your budget is met, you can either add more funds or take the listing offline for a while. Obviously we’re just scratching the surface, but as you evaluate marketing strategies for your website, be sure to factor in search engine advertising as a key component.
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