Nearly 75 percent of Americans — or more than 204 million people — have access to the Internet, according to a 2004 report from Nielson/Netratings. Just a year prior, 181 million Americans were Internet users. That means there’s been a 15 percent increase in one year.
With numbers like these, there is no doubt that the Internet is a major marketing outlet. The rapid growth of the World Wide Web as a mainstream communications vehicle has many of you asking: What exactly is online marketing, and should I use it?
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the prospect of marketing online, you’re not alone. It’s still a relatively new medium for all of us, and I’m certainly not an expert.
What is Internet marketing? It’s an all-inclusive term for marketing products and/or services online, so it may mean different things to different people. Search engine optimization, banner ads, Web sites and even using a “blog” are just the beginning.
Probably the most basic of these is banner advertising. Lest you think (as I did) that a banner ad only refers to those rectangular strips that run horizontally across the top of the Web page you’re visiting, there is a host of other options. In fact, things are moving so fast in the Internet world that there’s a good chance that more options will have been added by the time you read this. But, for now, here are some other types of banner ads to consider:
• There’s a skyscraper. As the name implies, this is a tall, skinny ad that appears on the Web page you’re viewing.
• Bulky boxes, which are boxes that turn up smack-dab in the middle of the page with the page content built around it.
• Of course, nearly everyone has encountered a pop-up ad.
• Somewhat new to the team is the sneaky cousin of the pop-up, known as the pop-under ad. It displays in a new browser window behind the window that you’re viewing. About.com is full of pop-under ads.
• There are rich media ads that might include audio, video and animation. Using these to advertise is very similar to using print ads — they are designed and appear on a schedule, much like a newspaper ad might.
A straightforward method of online marketing is to create a Web site to promote your product or service, and direct all existing and potential customers to the site. Quite often, banner ads are set up as a “click-through,” an ad Internet users click on that links them to your Web site.
Lots of traditional advertising (newspaper, radio, magazines) are also used to steer prospects to Web sites. Many of the best Web sites go beyond the basics of selling and also include assorted information, surveys, pertinent news stories, etc., to motivate visitors to return.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the technique of making Web pages attractive to the search engines. Research suggests that most people who use search engines usually only look at the first two pages, so the idea is to have your site listed in those first pages.
SEO uses various methods to make sure that Web pages have something called title tags and meta-tags. Simply stated (and I do mean simply), it’s the way search engines read the keywords in your Web site. SEO has even spawned a new position in the Web design business: search engine consultant. I wish I could offer a clearer explanation, but that’s better left to the professionals (or a great friend who’s a computer wizard).
A subtle online marketing tool is a “blog,” or personal Web log. Blogs are content-driven, so they’re probably not the place for shameless self-promotion. But they do offer an opportunity to talk to customers on a personal level.
For example, you might write about a timely news item that has some relevance to your business. It’s definitely a low-key approach to online marketing, but one that could provide credibility not associated with banner ads.
How does one begin to blog? There are several Web sites — some free, others that are fee-based — that can help you get started: WordPress.org, MindSay.com, Xanga.com and ModBlog.com.
The world of Internet marketing is far more expansive and complex than the brief information provided in this article might suggest, but I hope this has given you a quick primer.
The Internet can provide unique and cost-effective marketing opportunities. It can also deliver your message to new audiences that you’re not reaching via traditional advertising. Paddle out and get ready for a great ride.