Chapter 2 – The Startup Phase

The Startup Phase

Now that you know why you should market on the Internet, where to find a great online business that will work for you, and when to start your business and marketing campaigns, it is time to learn how you can go about doing it!

Free Instant Online Business: Just add blog

You should now possess a basic understanding of the key ingredients for successful online businesses. You need a product or service, you need customers to target, and you need a website to reach them.

If you already have a website, you’re one step ahead of the game. However, if you don’t yet have your own business website, you can get one that is free or low cost, easy to maintain, and can be set up in about thirty minutes with a specialized website form called a blog.

What in the world is a blog? The word is short for “web log”, and refers to a website that is set up like an online journal: you can “post” to your blog as often as you want, and you can add pictures, sound, video and graphics to your posts. Blogs are one of the most interactive media forms available online—with the comments feature, visitors can leave notes on your blog to let you know what they like or dislike about your products or services, and what they would like to see in the future.

Blogs are not used only for business. In fact, there are millions of personal blogs that Internet users have created just to connect with other like-minded souls. The popularity of blogs has spawned a whole new subsection of the Internet that is commonly called the “blogosphere” and involves bloggers (people who blog) linking to other blogs, reading and commenting regularly on other blogs, and enjoying many visitors and commenters in return.

You can also use blogs effectively as a free business website. The most popular blog software online is provided by a company called Blogger, which is owned by search engine giant Google. To get started right now setting up your free Blogger website:

  • Go to www.blogger.com
  • Click on the orange “Create Your Blog” button near the top and bottom of the page.
  • Enter the requested information. You will be asked to select a user name, password, display name, and a valid e-mail address. Choose your display name with care, as it will often be the first thing Internet users see. Your display name will be included at the end of every post you make.
  • Click on “Continue”
  • Enter a title and an address for your blog. The title of your blog can be your company name, or some creative variation of the products or services you provide. The address, or URL, should be something that is easy for people to remember and type in. The URL for your blog will be http://youraddress.blogspot.com.
  • Select a template design for your blog. Blogger provides a variety of different blog styles, and you can change your template at any time down the road.
  • Click on “Continue”

That’s it! Your blog is now set up and ready to use. You will be given the option at the end of the signup process to fill out your profile. Your Blogger profile will be searchable by the interests and topics you enter, so include your carefully researched keywords here to help other bloggers find your site. Search engines will also index your blog, so it is doubly useful to include keywords in your profile.

When you set up your blog, you will be given the option to add a bit of extra earning potential to your new website by signing up for the Google AdSense program. AdSense is a snippet of HTML code you can add to your blog template that will automatically generate a series of brief advertisements displayed on your blog pages. When visitors click these links, you will earn a few cents for each click.

To install AdSense on your blog, sign in to your Blogger account and go to your “Dashboard” (the control panel you use to create posts and edit your site). Click on the “Template” tab, and select the AdSense button, and then follow the instructions that appear on your screen. Be sure that you follow the prompts to save and republish your blog, or your ads will not appear on your site.

Once you have created your blog, you need to spread the word about it. Don’t forget to e-mail all your family, friends, and business associates with a link to your new blog. Include the URL in your signature line at the bottom of your e-mails as well. You can also index and market your blog just as you would a regular website. Here are some further tips on getting traffic to your blog:

  • Submit your blog information to search engine directories, just like a normal website.
  • List your blog on specialized blog directories, where you can submit simultaneously to all the major blog directories.
  • Visit other blogs and leave thoughtful comments in their comments section. Every blog you comment on creates another link to your own blog and gets your name out there. However, keep the cardinal rule of online marketing in mind: Do Not Spam! Leaving comments that simply say “visit my blog here!” is rude, unprofessional, and will turn the blogosphere against you rather quickly.

You can also register your domain name for your blog and host it on your own server, rather than having a .blogspot address. There are many ways to market a blog, so get creative! Visit www.homebusiness.org for more tips, hints, and resources on creating and maintaining a successful blog or website.

Website words of wisdom

Whether you use a blog or a more traditional style website to market your business, your online presence is your only presence. It must be up to the task of effectively marketing your products or services.

The best websites are simple, clear, and easy to move around. If your visitors can’t find what they came for with a few clicks, they will look elsewhere. Confusing graphics, fancy plug-ins, Flash animation, and automated music or sound files are often more distracting than impressing. You want your website to get straight to the point: “I have a great product or service that you should be interested in. Here’s what it will do for you, and here is how to buy it.”

Keep your visitors from clicking elsewhere with their credit cards

Your website should be straightforward and sell-oriented. Keep the design simple and clean; don’t muck up your pages with fancy fonts or heavy graphics that take a long time to load. Have a navigational menu with clearly labeled buttons across the top or down the side of every page, so your visitors know exactly how to get where they want to go. Don’t tease with the promise of a bonus or free product, and then make it nearly impossible to find the freebie. Everything on your website should be accessible within one to three clicks from everything else.

Another important consideration in the design of your website is your search engine rank. The text, title, and layout of your website will determine where you place on search engines—whether your results end up on page one or two, or page 5,398. Few people will find your website if your search engine rank is not up there in the front.

The following is a breakdown of the website sections search engines concentrate on, and what should be included in each one:

  • Title: The title of your website is the text that appears in the top bar of the browser window. Your title will be indexed by search engines first, and it will be the first thing potential visitors see when your website appears in a search. The title should contain your most important keyword or keywords, along with the name of your company if applicable. For example, if your business name is “Instant E-book” and you sell e-book software, your title might be: “Instant E-book: Easy, affordable e-book software and e-book solutions.”
  • Description: The description is the short blurb search engines will display along with your hot-linked title. If your pages do not specify a description in the meta tags or site building software, the search engine will simply display the first few lines of text on your page after the title. Specifying your description yourself allows you a better chance to rise in search engine rank and gain visitors. Your description should be short (less than 200 characters) and include your most important keywords along with a compelling explanation of your products or services.
  • Keywords: Your keywords are what search engine “spiders” (programs that “crawl the web” looking for and indexing pages) use to determine when your website will be included in its results. Make strategic use of targeted keywords in your title, description, and page text to increase your chances of high search engine rankings.
  • Text: This refers to the words that actually appear on your website. Previously, search engines lent more weight to meta-tags (which are invisible to the casual Internet user), but practices like keyword stuffing and irrelevant keyword usage have led to more emphasis being placed on visible page text. Your website text should be sensible and informative, and contain “sprinkled” keywords (rather than stuffed) that make sense within the context of your wordage. The most important text on your website should appear near the top of the page, so visitors don’t have to scroll down to view it.

Budgeting Basics

You can start out with little or no monetary investment, but you will eventually need to put some money in to your online marketing business. Here, budgeting your funds is vital. You don’t want to end up investing hundreds or thousands of dollars on an advertising tactic or campaign that will not earn back your investment.

Once you have created a budget, make sure you stick to it. Do not be tempted by “special offers” or programs with “instant results” unless they are part of your carefully planned and well-thought-out marketing strategy. If you stick within your budget, you will force yourself to research any marketing offers thoroughly, seek out the best deals, strike bargains, and determine whether the results you receive from a particular advertising method are worth re-investment.

Unfortunately, there is no way to determine the exact cost of online marketing. Your needs and the current market pricing for goods and services related to online advertising will dictate how much you’ll spend. Whether you need to invest your budget in a website package, a high-quality autoresponder, special programming such as interactive components, or the purchase of products, materials, or turnkey packages, research is once again the key to your budgetary requirements.

If you need professional assistance in designing your website or crafting your copy, hiring a freelance professional is your best bet. Keep in mind that with freelance writers and designers, you get what you pay for. If the cost for the service is cheap, the service itself will likely be cheap as well. Be sure to ask for samples or portfolios before hiring a freelancer. Most freelancers work at competitive rates as well. The good news is that once you pay a freelancer to design your website or write your copy, the end result is yours—the freelance fee is a one-time investment that will remain profitable for you.

Some additional costs you may choose to include in your budget are:

  • E-mail marketing: Hiring an Internet marketing company or buying a list of opt-in leads can prove profitable and cost-effective. However, launching a successful e-mail marketing campaign is not a simple process. First, you must investigate e-mail marketing companies thoroughly. There are many of them out there, and prices vary widely. Some are less than ethical, and may provide you with unqualified leads—which will get you in trouble for spamming. Second, you must provide the marketing company with exact profiles of your target demographics in order to ensure you receive as many qualified leads as possible. Third, the marketing letter you write must be compelling to entice people to your website. And finally, your website itself must be in top form to convert all those visitors to buyers. E-mail marketing is not a complete solution; rather, it is a component of an overall effective marketing plan.
  • Banner ads: Placing banner ads for your website can be effective—but again, there are many factors to consider here. There are many websites that offer banner advertising space, but force you to share space and compete with other websites offering similar products or services. The most effective banner ad placement comes with an exclusivity guarantee: yours should be the only banner on the page. Otherwise, you risk a sharp decline in traffic when visitors are directed to other websites.
  • Pay per click: PPC programs are one of the most cost-effective and results-achieving advertising methods online. With a PPC campaign, you receive only targeted traffic—visitors who click on your PPC ads that have looked for your keywords in a search engine. This means they are more likely to become paying customers when they arrive at your website. The problem with PPC advertising is that there are only so many specific, targeted keywords that will apply to your business. The more popular, generalized keywords are subject to fierce competition, so that only those willing to pay a high per-click price will be able to use them.

There are also some other alternatives in paid marketing to consider. For example, when it comes to PPC marketing, you will not pay a huge amount—but you will have to invest a huge amount of time in keyword research and results tracking. In the world of online marketing, time equals money. If you are interested in launching a PPC campaign, but don’t feel you have the necessary time or expertise to devote to making your campaign successful, you may want to consider hiring a pay-per-click advertising management service to do the work for you.

These companies understand how PPC marketing works, and will take much of the business of gaining website traffic out of your hands so you can concentrate on running your company. Some of the services PPC advertising management companies provide include:

  • Development of high-performance keyword lists
  • Creation of compelling, attractive text ads
  • Keyword list and bidding management
  • Campaign optimization based on performance data analysis
  • Results and tracking reports for you to view

Keep in mind that driving traffic to your website is not enough. You need relevant, targeted traffic arriving at your website—quality over quantity. For this reason, a carefully planned and orchestrated PPC campaign can be highly profitable.

The most popular PPC program, of course, is Google’s AdWords (previously discussed in this book). AdWords gets you listed near the top of the most popular search engine, and you can change your keywords every month until you arrive at a combination that yields the best results for you.

More on traffic

If all these marketing strategies have your head spinning, you can skip the campaigning and drive traffic naturally to your website with search engine optimization (SEO) practices. Remember the phrase “content is king“? SEO practices capitalize on that idea by giving your website intrinsic value, so that your search engine ranking is naturally high.

Online users have all but exhausted their interest in gimmicks, flashy advertising, and cute tricks. Today, they are looking for real information and useful products and services. While PPC campaigns will get your website listed in the fabled “top three” pages of results, your information will be clearly labeled (at least for savvy Internet users) as paid advertisements. Natural search engine results—those listed on the basis of page content—enjoy a whopping 75 percent of all search engine click-throughs.

You can hire a company to optimize your website, or you can do it yourself through market research and emphasis on writing your content. The basic keys to search engine optimization are:

  • Include only relevant content. Don’t lie about your products or services, and don’t include popular search engine keywords that have nothing to do with your website.
  • Make sure your content is informative and pleasant to read. Give your visitors real information, not just fluff and rhetoric.
  • Add fresh content on a regular basis. Write informative articles about subjects your visitors will be interested in (or purchase articles from an article directory or content service).
  • Keep it simple, and keep it real.

Research search optimization techniques, or hire a professional SEO marketer or company to overhaul your website. High natural rankings on top search engines will bring you plenty of traffic that is ready to be converted to paying customers. Your website will do the rest!