The Key To E-Commerce Success: Marketing, Marketing, Marketing

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For small business owners who finally get around to putting their wares on the Internet, it's the biggest surprise of the electronic age.

They spend a lot of time and money on eye-popping graphics and features for their new Web site. They brainstorm loads of money-saving offers no one in his right mind could possibly refuse. They make their products and services easy to order and pay for.

And then ... nothing. Their visitor counter says "128," simply because they've logged in to check their own visitor counter 128 times.

What's the problem?

"Marketing your Web site is extremely important," said Kelly Kazarian, owner of Kelly's Komputers in Payson. "Customers aren't going to find it on their own. I've talked to a number of people who thought that all they had to do was create their Web site and the business would just come. Of course, that just doesn't happen."

To further explain, think of your Web site as a store in a huge mall. A mall with about 50 million other stores, none of which can be entered without a secret password that the mall's shoppers don't even know exists.

That's the problem.

Happily, there are solutions. And all of them culled from dozens of Internet business Web sites and listed below have to do with properly marketing your Web site to 1) help potential customers know where to find you and, more important, 2) make them want to find you.

The first hard truth small business owners must swallow on their journey to Internet success is this: The "brochure" Web site just doesn't cut it anymore, if it ever did. To be competitive on the Internet today, you've got to carry out an aggressive on-line promotional campaign.

Yes, you can hire folks to mass e-mail your message, develop razzle-dazzle page designs, and get your URL (or Web "address") on all the major search engines. But, the experts agree, there's a lot more you can do to build your Internet visibility.

For example.

Make your World-Wide-Web effort part of an overall marketing plan. It's basic business practice to create a marketing plan; if you don't know anything about them, do some reading. As you work up a plan, think about each phase market research, competitive analysis, promotion planning in terms of the Web environment.

Don't abandon conventional advertising or cut back on successful conventional advertising to go on the Web. The benefits of print ads and other media are measurable. You might want to think of your Web venture as a test. Don't bet the bank on it until you're sure of the results. Monitor the costs and benefits.

The Net is all about information free information. Your site should be 80 percent information and 20 percent sales literature. This is the most important factor in ensuring that readers find your Web site interesting, spread the word to friends and associates, and return for repeat visits.

Don't fall into the trap of lots of graphics and revolving wing-dings, but no informational content. Remember: Your site is created to play a role in a marketing program, not to serve as a creative outlet for anyone.

Make sure your Web site's design fits your marketing purpose. Most good business Web sites are content-driven. They don't have to be boring, but design features should enhance the marketing message, not make it confusing or hard to read.

Stay on the lookout for opportunities to place advertising "banners" on Web sites that attract lots of people who match the customer description for your company. It's an open market, so negotiate. And remember, if your site is an interesting one, other sites like it will want to exchange links with you.

Don't just promote your URL on the Internet. Advertise it in all your conventional promotions company stationery, business cards, print ads, mailings, signs, packaging, invoices, TV commercials, whatever you can think of. Publicize your site with press releases.

Devote online time to building a community. Even if yours is a one-person company, spend some time online, every day, communicating by e-mail, participating in forums and newsgroups, exploring relevant Web sites, and building relationships with other companies.

There are lots of experts in every field publishing articles in on-line forums, newsgroups, newsletters, and on Web sites. Look for their contact information at the bottom of the article. Send the author a note pointing out what you liked about their article. Introduce yourself and your business. Offer your services or products to them and their clients.

Fortunately for the small-business owner, the Net is still at the moment a do-it-yourself proposition. Be creative. Just don't wait for the next phase of the Net, when business promotion will be taken over by large ad and PR agencies. Be aggressive now.

This is one party where if you're late, you may miss it altogether.

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