Simplifying Online Advertising Options

Advertising online can be a very confusing proposition.

There are so many Web sites out there—not to mention directories, search engines, content sites and e-mail opportunities—that it can be quite overwhelming to the novice online marketer.

But never fear. One must begin somewhere. You may be thinking, “I am fine. I have a Web site!” Unfortunately, that way of thinking and those days are well over. Online marketing is more than essential to growing your business and increasing your revenue, and it is only going to become more so in the future.

Tried-and-true strategies

Following are the fundamental tried-and-true, must-have strategies for online advertising.

• Search engine marketing

• Directory marketing

• Targeted content marketing

• Link shares

• E-mail

Search engine marketing. This can be frustrating because it is time-consuming and constantly is changing. And, even worse, just when you think everything is all set, someone can come in at any moment and outbid you, lowering your ad placements and pushing you down the ranks to the bottom of the page.

Well, welcome to the world of search engine marketing—not to be confused with search engine rankings. Rankings are the order in which your ad appears on results lists when a certain word or phrase is entered into a search box. Search engine marketing involves the paid advertising listings that typically are found on the right side of the search results screen. Commonly, it is a small tile ad filled with text and a link to your Web site.

First, you must choose key words and phrases to align with your Web site. Perhaps “facials in Minneapolis” or “Minneapolis facials” would be two targeted phrases for a skin care spa in Minneapolis. However, if someone then types in “facials Minneapolis,” your ad will not appear. See how frustrating this can be? You must be very specific with your marketing phrases.

Also, you must bid on each phrase you choose. So, put in the maximum amount of money that you would consider offering for that particular phrase, and hope that the competition will not be tough. Cross your fingers, but don’t hold your breath! You can define further where your ad appears by determining whether or not you want people to view it nationally or just regionally. On some search engines, you can select whether or not you want the wording to be “loosely” matched, enabling your ad to appear when something that is not exactly your key phrase is typed in, but almost matches. Make sure to set a realistic daily budget so that you don’t go through too much money in just one day.

Hint: Remember that you need to monitor this method frequently in order to examine clicks and to see if someone has outbid you, perhaps bumping you down the totem pole. Oh, the joys of competition.

Directory marketing. If a potential client is on a Web site that is associated with spas, seeking spa information, you need to be there! How do you choose which ones to be on? It’s simple—pick a few of your favorites that you would like if you were a potential client. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.

Getting on more than one is important, because no one directory will attract everyone. Make sure that you are in an environment that is reputable and will draw the type of client that you want. Directories typically are not as expensive as a magazine or newspaper ad, and are much more targeted to people seeking what your particular type of business offers, resulting in an efficient way to spend your ad dollars.

Hint: Select a listing type that showcases an image. The Internet is a visual medium, and people like to look at the pictures. So don’t skimp—purchase the listing that offers at least one picture. Two is better!

Hint: Tracking does get tricky. Have your front desk personnel ask where your clients found out about you online. “On your Web site” isn’t specific enough. The Internet is fluid, and people can surf from one place to another with the click of a mouse. They may forget exactly where they found your spa. Tracking from online sources definitely has its issues, due to the fact that it’s so fast.

Hint: Did you know that the more places you’re listed, the better your search result rankings will be? That’s right—it will make your Web site appear more important, resulting in a better ranking. The bigger and better the site on which you are listed, the higher you will appear.

Targeted content marketing. This offers you banner ads, tile ads and other kinds of ads available on a Web site. A banner ad resembles a banner and usually is placed at the top or on the side of a Web page, spanning a large amount of width or length. A tile ad resembles a tile or button, offering a small square of information about your business. These either are rotating or fixed ad placements showcasing your spa. Consider a local Web site for this purpose—a regional magazine’s Web site or a listing of city favorites. Get an ad that is animated and rotates in order to generate more attention. Place it where you think your clients visit often.

Click-thrus (the term for driving traffic to your site) generally are similar to the responses of direct marketing. When banner ads first were created and sold by Wired, the responses were around 15%. I worked for the publication at that time, and banners were the “new” thing. Now, they are commonplace, and 1% is about the industry average. In fact, on some sites, it even may be lower. Are you depressed yet? Don’t be! Industry studies show that those ads have a huge impact on the branding of a company and actually increase the intent to purchase, as well as strengthen the brand familiarity of a company. This provides an even longer-term positive impact.

Hint: Pop-up ads are annoying. Don’t advertise on them unless you want to risk alienating your clients.

Hint: Give people a reason to click. Provide a compelling incentive, such as a chance to win a prize, for potential clients to take the time to do so.

Link shares. Swap links with other companies that are complementary but not competitive. How? E-mail them. Call them. But if the company is much bigger than yours, it may require a little persistence on your part. Perhaps even offer a complimentary spa treatment. This incentive probably will work wonders for overworked webmasters.

E-mail. E-mail advertising is great when executed tactfully and considerately. Keep in mind, however, that e-mail lists are not all the same. Some have been generated by people who didn’t know they were giving their e-mail addresses, or from names that have been sold by a company to another marketing company and then to you. This is an illegal practice defined by the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, established by the Federal Trade Commission. Work with a reputable business with whom you have a rapport and that displays ethical behavior. And make sure to ask the question “How did you get your list?”

Have that company create an e-mail with a great offer and a call to action, information on your spa, a link to your Web site and a forward-to-a-friend feature. Then, send away. It will go into interested, like-minded subscribers’ in-boxes, and they either will choose to look at it or not. If they do, fabulous. This is called the open rate, and you then can find out how many people clicked-thru to your Web site or took you up on your offer. It’s effective, targeted, qualified and easy!

Hint: Watch the subject line. Don’t use the words “free” or “offer” unless you want to risk your message being flagged as spam. Be creative and succinct.

Hint: Ask how often the company you’re working with actually sends out e-mails. Their list could be oversaturated and bombarded with e-mails. You want a list that is as fresh as possible so that potential clients will be hungry for your message and not be tuned out to the company’s e-mail lists.

A web of options

Use these tips to help you meander through the web of options for online advertising. Remember that it is necessary, it will help your business and it will increase your exposure to your clients. Ultimately, that will drive more revenue to your bottom line.

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