You do the math. A whopping 2.5 million small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) will create a presence on the Web for the first time next year, joining the approximately 10 million small businesses already there.
With these mind-boggling figures, how can you drive traffic to your site? Stand above the rest? Ensure that your online marketing is good enough to draw customers back?
"The list is everything," goes the marketing aphorism. And whether you're an online retailer, a local service provider or a global professional, your best bet for online success is to capture as much information about those that visit your site as possible. Here's how.
Give something away.
Zappos (#15, 2004 Inc. 500), the online shoe retailer, has seen its sales soar to an astounding $300 million (estimated) in 2005. Zappos built a model based on iron-clad price and satisfaction guarantees, a great shopping experience and free shipping both ways, according to founder and chairman, Nick Swinmurn.
The company also owes its success to a "free weekly shoe giveaway" that requires site visitors to provide their name, address, e-mail, and gender in an online form. Once the information is captured, Zappos diplomatically sends out marketing emails with shopping specials to draw visitors back.
"We're always looking for ways to keep our customers loyal," says Swinmurn.
As a result, 60% of Zappos customers are repeat buyers, and 25% are word-of-mouth referrals.
Give away valuable information.
If you like the idea of an e-zine but not the continued workload, consider writing a few "special reports," "white papers," or "e-books," which visitors can download from your site once they've provided their vital information.
Special reports allow you to address a topic or challenge your clients need to know about. They also provide you the opportunity to subtly lead readers to the conclusion that your product or service is best suited to meet that challenge.
For an example, go to the "Ideas" link of the home page of The Management Innovation Group. There you'll find a number of publications about corporate design and innovation -- a perfect way to say "we are leaders in the field."
Want to know whether you should install a skylight in your home or let a professional installer do it? Good question and you can download a free whitepaper from Naturalight.org -- after you provide your contact information, of course.
Special reports also give you instant credibility and establish you as a "knowledge leader" in your industry.
Publish an e-zine.
If you're a professional or service provider, information is your stock in trade, and the venerable e-mail newsletter, or e-zine, is still a dynamite go-to marketing strategy.
Few do it better than sales consultant Jeffrey Gitomer. His "Sales Caffeine: A weekly multimedia sales jolt!" is a paragon of crisp writing and titillating copy that gently leads the reader to Gitomer's Web site to learn more about this products and services.
If you decide on an e-zine, be ready to put in the continued work of creating new issues in a timely manner; nothing dashes customer trust more than a promise of an ongoing service that's broken.
In the first quarter of 2005, 30% of U.S. Internet users visited blogs.
That translates to 50 million US Internet users, according to a survey conducted by comScore.
What is a blog? Short for weblog, a blog is daily, weekly or monthly journal written on topical subject written by you or a large community of writers. Many weblogs enable visitors to leave public comments, and for you the ability to capture information and begin a relationship.
Ed Kuhlman, owner of Kuhlman Auction captures e-mail addresses with the promise of a weekly e-mail digest of the company's blog postings.
It may take time to build your blog following, and blogs require work (and some discretion on your part), but blogs can improve your search engine rankings, especially if you can elicit many responses from your blog postings.
Run a contest.
If not a giveaway, how about a contest? Noodles & Company, headquartered in Boulder, Colo., is building a successful chain (110 restaurants and counting) in part by relying on the marketing prowess of the Internet.
When the quick-casual restaurant chain wanted to build brand among customers, it launched a Web-based contest to crown a national "Asparagus Queen" that coincided with the chain's new menu of dishes inspired by seasonal produce. The contest lasted for less than 30 days, but inspired more than 7,500 entries, 125,000 votes, and a 400% increase in Web site visits, according to Noodles CEO, Aaron Kennedy.
"It was an opportunity to reach customers with a really strong branding message and have a sense of fun at the same time," says Kennedy.
Remember, every name captured is a warm lead just waiting to be mined. Employing any -- or all -- of these methods could fill your marketing coffers with potential and loyal customers.