Everyone who runs a Web site wants to climb his or her way up the results of a Google search, but that can cost no less than thousands and up to millions of dollars. So what do you do if you have little-to-no online advertising budget and can't fly banners all over the Internet to let the "right" people know you're out there?
Rest assured, the Internet remains a friendly place for small businesses even so, with many options available to boost traffic and, naturally, sales.
But first, beware: There are plenty of tricks on offer that will help get your brand out to the public cheaply, but that doesn't make them good ideas. Just as making the front page of the newspaper because you were arrested will indeed make you well-known (though for the wrong reasons), the same can be said about some types of online marketing. We've all been spammed to know that, sure, you may reach a lot of people. And yes, they may get to know your site's name - but they probably won't like it. Instead, align your brand with a thoughtful strategy and you'll win over customers.
To guide you through the available choices for saving money without blowing your reputation, here are some don'ts and do's from experts in the field. In some cases, the don'ts-and-dos of online marketing are slight variations of each other, underscoring the fact that achieving success comes with patience and hard work, not a catch-all-cure-all.
Because the Internet is such an expansive place (Google searches more than 4 billion Web pages), it seems like plastering your name everywhere would be a good way to catch all users wherever they might be. Wrong, say our experts. You want to attract people who want to be at your site and who might actually buy something. Don't trick people into coming to your site. Deception might get people to land on your home page, but it can just as easily land you on a search engine's blacklist. "Don't cheapen yourself," said David U. Simon, founder of the consulting group Revenue Engines (link) and former head of promotions for Yahoo! Here are a few ways to avoid that trap:
Focus your efforts on reaching the places where the people you want to reach go. This will require some legwork, but it will save costs and, in many cases, will be a one-time effort.
These tips will help save money and build your business, but keep in mind that it all starts with a good Web site that is updated frequently and offers a safe and secure environment for your visitors to do business. "The Internet is a meritocracy," said Bruner. "The cream does rise to the top."
MATT QUINN contributes to the Wall Street Journal's corporate finance blog. He has also written extensively about banking and corporate finance for publications including Inc., American Banker, and Financial Week. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.