Promoting your business online is essential if you want to increase your sales. However, for many new companies, tight budgets may prevent you from running PPC and other paid for marketing campaigns. If you find yourself in this situation, there are alternative solutions that can, with a bit of creative thinking, be just as effective without having to stretch the finances. Here are six free methods you can use to promote your business online.
1. Make sure your website is search engine optimised
Many businesses make money online simply because their website ranks highly in search engine results. The higher you rank the more visitors your site will get. And whilst high traffic cannot guarantee increased sales, (that’s up to the quality of your website, products and prices, etc.) you can be sure that a website that gets no visitors is not going to make any money at all.
If you want your site to rank well in search engine results it is very important that it is fully optimised. Whilst you can pay to have this done for you by an SEO company, it’s likely to be an expensive option. The best way is to learn to do it for yourself.
If you are not familiar with SEO, the basic thing you need to know is that there are three different types: on-site, on-page and off-site. On-site SEO involves making sure your website works well for search engines, i.e., that it loads quickly, is mobile friendly, easy to navigate and is structured in an appropriate way.
On-page SEO is all about using keywords in the most advantageous way in your content so that your site ranks well for the terms that you want it to. If you sell organic fruit juices, then you will want to make sure that when someone searches for ‘organic orange juice’ your site is on the first page of results. On-page SEO begins with keyword research and you can learn about this in our article, Best Keyword Research Techniques for SEO.
Off-site SEO is all about getting high-quality backlinks to your site from other websites. This is the most difficult optimisation to achieve and if it is done badly the consequences for your website can be disastrous. Essentially, you have to earn the backlinks by producing great content. Search engines believe that if your content is good enough, other high-quality sites will link to you and this is a signal that your pages should rank highly. However, if you use unscrupulous methods to increase the number of backlinks to your site, you may get penalised by search engines. If this happens, your site will disappear from search results completely. For more information on creating great content read our article High-Quality Content: The Future of SEO.
2. Create awareness through local listing services
One of the best ways to promote your business online, especially for local businesses, it to sign up for a Google My Business account. By doing this you can create a free listing on Google Places that will appear in results when anyone does a relevant search. These listings usually appear at the top of search results, and if someone has done a search for your actual business a more detailed guide, including a map, contact details, opening hours, images and customer ratings will appear.
One of the advantages of joining Google My Business is that you have to be verified by post in order to join. This verification helps Google know that you are a genuine business which immediately makes your website more trustable to them. This, in itself, can help improve your search engine rankings.
There are other listings sites that can also help you be found locally, such as Yahoo Local or Yell. However, try to avoid registering on low-quality business directories as search engines may think you are only doing this to increase your backlinks.
3. Make use of social media
Social media is a fantastic way to promote your business for free. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, etc., are ideal platforms for B2C businesses and LinkedIn is a great place for B2B companies. When you first set out, your aim needs to be to build an audience by getting as many people as possible to follow you. Only once you have achieved this will you have an audience big enough to market to.
This isn’t as easily achieved. Social media platforms are busy places and to get followed you need to get noticed first. This is where creativity comes into play. You need to post things that people will find interesting or amusing – and you need to do it regularly. People get so many items in their feeds that a tweet or Facebook post can soon disappear, reposting can sometimes be necessary to get more coverage.
If you do produce social media content that people are interested in, the good news is that they will like and share it with their own followers. This can have a big impact on your business. The golden prize, however, is to have your post or tweet liked or shared by an influencer. If someone with several million followers spreads the word about you, your website can go viral.
4. Set up an affiliate programme
Affiliate or referral programmes are used by many businesses, including lots of blue chip companies, to drive more traffic to their website. With an affiliate programme, you set up a relationship with other websites to recommend your products and services to their readers. If a reader visits your website and makes a purchase, you pay the affiliate a percentage of the sale amount. To give you an idea of how beneficial affiliate programmes are, Amazon’s programme, Amazon Associates, generates 40% of its global revenue.
Affiliate programmes are managed using special software and this includes a tracking system that records when a visitor on your site makes a purchase after clicking a link on your affiliate’s site. It then works out how much commission each affiliate has made. Affiliate software is inexpensive and if you use WordPress, you can even get free plugins that create the programme for you.
The advantage of affiliate programmes is that you only pay out if you make a sale. This way of promoting your business works as an incentive to your affiliates to do a good job at getting the message out there. You often find that there are many bloggers specialising in your niche that will write good reviews of your products and services and these will be read by many of their subscribers. Alternatively, you can provide your affiliates with banners or text links.
Before setting up an affiliate account there are two things you need to consider. First of all, make sure you can afford to offer financial incentives as they will eat into your profits. You may need to adjust pricing to accommodate the affiliate fees. Secondly, be judicious about who you accept on your programme. Don’t let people who run spammy or unrelated sites have accounts or you could get low-quality backlinks (it’s best to insist all affiliate links are marked as ‘nofollow’ so Google ignores them).
5. Use press releases
You’ll be surprised how few small businesses take advantage of press releases. The reason businesses don’t use them is because they tend to think of the press as Fleet Street papers or TV news organisations and expect that they wouldn’t be interested in their story. The reality is that there are thousands of publications out there, big and small, and many of them are niche focused.
So, if your business does something interesting, whether that’s business related or community related, make sure you get that press release written and issued – there’s a good chance someone will want to put it into print (and possibly on their website, too).
The most effective way to get your press release noticed is to draw up a list of relevant publications (local papers, niche or trade magazines, etc.), find out which journalist covers your topics and then send the press release to that person.
There are lots of websites you can use to find different media publications and there are even some sites that distribute press releases to those organisations.
6. Offer a great deal
The internet is full of websites that make their living advertising deals, coupons and discount vouchers, Groupon being a prime example. As these deals are only ever short lived, these sites are constantly on the lookout for new deals to advertise.
If you are able to offer a deal or a discount, it is possible that these sites might be interested in promoting your business to their huge numbers of subscribers. Groupon, for example, has over 50 million active customers.
Before you try this out, do work out the figures first. Besides offering something cheaply to customers, the company advertising your deal will want a percentage of your sales too. For example, if you are offering a £100 item for £70 to the customer, you may have to pay another £10 to the advertiser. Make sure you will have enough profit in the £60 you get to cover all your costs and overheads.
The aim of giving the deal, however, is to develop long term customers or to make more money selling something else at the same time. Giving someone a free pizza is worth it if they spend a whole lot more on starters, sides, desserts and drinks and then come back three or four times a year.
As you can see from reading this post, with a little bit of creativity and forward planning, it is possible to put together a promotional strategy that has no up-front costs. Where costs are involved, i.e. offering deals or running an affiliate programme, these can be factored into the price or can be made up for through additional sales.
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