October 2007 - Online Marketing: A Do-It-Yourself Guide

If you find yourself confused and frustrated with the Internet marketing gurus, don’t abandon your online efforts. Here are a few simple, proven methods by which you can leverage the tools of Web 2.0-and they all can be implemented yourself.

By Anthony Sziklai

A successful and well-known DRTV marketer recently told me that he was done with Internet marketing. While he understood the value of a good website, he saw little value in the incremental sales attributed to standalone Internet campaigns. In general, he was tired of working with interactive marketing agencies, affiliates and programmers who baffled him with jargon and then did little more than ride on the coattails of his television advertising.

Though I could have cited several pureplay Internet campaigns that have been unqualified successes, I took a different tack and offered to teach him some simple, cheap ways to generate more sales via the Internet. When he heard that he could do most of these things himself, he was all ears.

I always have been a big fan of search engine marketing. The right pay-per-click text ads combined with search engine optimization (i.e., fine-tuning of your website’s code, content and links) can yield surprisingly good results. That said, traditional search engine marketing can be too technical for many people. Search engine optimization, for example, requires HTML programming skills, which many marketers don’t have.

This would be a non-starter for my DRTV marketer above if it were not for a relatively new generation of self-publishing, social networking and bookmarking sites that have brought Internet marketing to the masses. Requiring little or no technical skill, Web 2.0 marketing is all about user-generated content that is tagged, shared and virally distributed around the Internet for free. Because this content tends to have a fresh and authentic quality about it, the search engines give it preferential ranking over less dynamic content. Also referred to as “social media marketing,” Web 2.0 marketing is a low cost and surprisingly effective way to control your brand image and increase online sales.

Blogs are an excellent way to promote products and generate free website traffic. And you don’t need to be a web designer to create a blog and start publishing content.

To create a blog, use free blog hosting sites such as Wordpress.com, Bloglines.com, LiveJournal.com and Blogger.com. Each of these services will guide you step-by-step through the process of creating a blog. Be sure to utilize proper categories for your blog that contain keywords Internet surfers would most likely use to find your product. This is important because blog directories, such as Technorati, recognize categories as tags (think keyword labels) when they classify new blogs. In layman’s terms, build your blog around the words that best describe your product.

Once your blog is created, start writing posts. A good post is often just a few paragraphs long. Write posts that people (not just search engines) will want to read. While this sounds obvious, time and time again I see marketers writing posts that are nothing more than random strings of keywords stuffed into paragraphs of overly promotional gibberish. While it is a good idea to use relevant keywords in your posts, you need to write interesting, even provocative, content that will encourage others to comment on or bookmark your blog. Create a “top posts” page on your blog that ranks your favorite posts; this will steer visitors to your best content and hopefully spur visitors to help generate higher-quality, longer comment threads (something the search engines like).

Search engine optimizers often refer to compelling content with a good hook as “link bait” since it baits viewers to place links to it from other websites. These external links can boost your ranking on the search engines. To create link bait, publish testimonials or reviews that show how your product has positively changed people’s lives.

Once you feel that your blog is ready for primetime, submit it to free blog directories, such as Technorati. If your blog content is newsworthy, you may also syndicate it via services such as Submityourarticle.com. Most blog content is syndicated via RSS, which stands for really simple syndication. If you enable RSS on your blog, external feed aggregators and websites will publish your content to interested readers.

Social bookmarking sites are free services that allow users to create bookmarks to websites, images, videos and other online content that they find useful. The bookmarks are “social” in the sense that they are available to the public, or to other users within a specific network. Social bookmarking sites allow users to search for bookmarked content, which they rank in popularity according to the number of times they are saved as favorites, reviewed or voted for.

From a marketing point of view, the social bookmarking sites provide a powerful way to categorize content so that it easily can be found by the search engines. This process is also referred to as “tag and ping” marketing because it enables marketers to label content with tags and then ping the search engines to notify them that the content is new or has been updated. The outcome? Faster, better search results.

The blog directory Technorati is also considered a social bookmarking site. Once users “claim” a blog on Technorati, the site allows them to manually ping the blog whenever new content is added, as well as create “favorites” to as many blogs as they want, including their own blogs.

Other social bookmarking sites include Blinklist.com, Blogmark.com, Del.icio.us, Digg.com, Diigo.com, Furl.net, Fark.com, Lijit.com,

Magnolia.com, Ning.com, Newsvine.com, Netscape.com, Netvouz.com, Wists.com and Yahoo MyWeb, to name a few. Some of them are media specific (e.g., blogs or photos) and many of them cross-reference each other. Since the majority of these sites are free, I suggest spending some spare time signing up with them and bookmarking your company’s website, landing pages and blogs.

Since tags are the name of the game in social bookmarking, make sure you have a tag strategy. Some people prefer using complete phrases when they tag their content, such as “left-handed monkey wrench,” while others have more success using single keywords, such as “left,” “handed,” “monkey” and “wrench.” Experiment to see what ultimately works best for you on the search engines.

Several of the social bookmarking sites use sophisticated ranking algorithms and have search engines of their own that are becoming increasingly popular. Who knows-one or more of them might even give Google a run for its money one day, which is all the more reason to get to know them now.

Social networking sites, such as the well known MySpace and Facebook, are not only for meeting people online. They have evolved into serious Web 2.0 marketing platforms for companies and their products. Savvy social media marketers make connections via mutual friends and leverage these relationships to spread information virally across the network. A funny or heartfelt product testimonial (imagine a tag like “this left-handed monkey wrench saved my life”) can go from one viewer to potentially millions literally overnight.

To start social networking, create a profile on either MySpace or Facebook. I prefer Facebook because it is less noisy and “spammy.” Profiles are like mini-websites that typically include a photo of the person (or a company logo), a guestbook, a list of web favorites, personal interests and other information about the user. For our purposes, think of your profile as a “launch pad” for your content.

The key to social networking on these sites is to participate and collaborate. You can’t get people to pass your product testimonial on to other people without engaging them and developing some measure of trust. Visiting others’ profiles and dropping comments is encouraged, so don’t be shy about getting the message out. The only thing you need to remember is that people hate spam (i.e., unsolicited ads), so use a personal touch and “keep it real.”

Marketers familiar with the costs of dubbing and distributing an infomercial will be blown away when they upload their video on YouTube.com and unleash it upon the Internet’s largest video sharing community-in a matter of seconds, for free. If Web 2.0 marketing is all about marketing for the people, by the people, then YouTube is its ultimate means of expression.

I suggest creating a few videos using excerpts from your existing spots or infomercials. Think outside the box as YouTube’s “active” audience is much different from the passive television audience. To generate interest, try something unorthodox, such as funny infomercial bloopers or death-defying stunts using your product. As I mentioned before, be creative.

Your YouTube video easily can be added to your website, or to many of the social networking sites. Remember to invite your social network to add your YouTube video to their pages. While it is possible for consumers to search YouTube for your video, it is more likely that they will run into it by chance in their friend’s bookmarks, or in a list of the day’s most popular videos.

Podcasts are audio or video files that are downloaded onto an mobile media device like an iPod via online services such as Podango.com, Podcast.net, iTunes or Yahoo Podcasts. This is simply one more Web 2.0 syndication channel for your content. Most people won’t listen to or view an ad on an iPod, so it’s important that your content is entertaining or useful. A how-to guide is a good example of useful content.

Why trust your fate to sometimes-fickle search engines when you can create your own? Third-generation search engine technologies, such as Swiki.com and Rollyo.com, enable users to create their own search engines and customize the results. Even Google has an offering called Google Custom Search. While custom search is a little more technical than other types of social media, its premise is highly democratic: allow humans instead of machines to vote on (i.e., rank) search results.

You ostensibly could create a custom search engine for fitness products, put it on a website dedicated to fitness, and have all of the top search results point to your product landing page. Creating a search engine is easy and can be done by nearly anyone. However, adding it to a website will require some web development skills.

Some marketers will read this article and conclude: nice, but not worth it. My business is a bottom-line driven numbers game and I don’t have the bandwidth for this kind of stuff. And this may be true in some cases, particularly low price point DRTV products that will never see a retail store shelf. Having said that, a bad review on Amazon, a major blog or social network can divert consumers away from your product. The wrong person writing a negative article on your company or product can rip across the Internet in a day and end up at the top of the search engines. I’ve seen this with my own eyes, and it’s not pretty. In addition to lost business, this kind of bad press also can lead to higher returns, chargebacks and customer service calls.

If you are going to be a mass marketer in the 21st century, you need to own your online brand, control your reputation and, most importantly, maximize your sales. Web 2.0 marketing will do this for you. Become a master of social media and you may even find that there’s gold in them thar hills.

Anthony Sziklai is president of Moulton Logistics Management in Van Nuys, Calif. He can be reached at (818) 997-1800, or via e-mail at [email protected].


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