Television ads are often prohibitively expensive for small businesses to produce and air. Magazine and radio ads are less expensive but still require a sizeable investment when part of an ongoing campaign. Although you can spend a lot of money on an Internet campaign, there are many ways to leverage the Internet and gain free advertising for your business.
Following are 20 ideas to consider:
- Increase your visibility on search engines: Insert keywords that describe your business into the HTML < META > tags on your Web site pages. Repeat these keywords in the text of your Web site’s homepage. Strategic use of keywords can put your business name at the top of customers’ search results. For more information, see our article “Optimizing Your Site for Search Engines and Directories”.
- Put your URL on everything: Maximize your advertising efforts by listing your Web site address on everything you do. Print the URL on your company’s letterhead, on your business cards, on the front of your building or the door to your office suite. Use the URL in your e-mail signature. List the URL on any print advertising that you do, including phone books, brochures, flyers, and direct mail pieces.
- Submit your site to every directory, specialty listing, industry organization, and yellow pages you can find: No matter what industry your business is in, there are online directories, such as Yahoo! Yellow Pages, that you should register with. Many business and industry associations allow you to list your business on their Web site. In addition, there are individuals who maintain popular lists of resources; use Web search engines to find these lists, and then create an entry for your business.
- Utilize evangelists: Channel the energy of your most enthusiastic staff and encourage them to promote your company’s product as they surf the Web.
- Blogs: A Weblog, or blog, is a collection of short articles, essays, or loosely-formatted thoughts, usually written by one individual. Since the 2004 U.S. presidential election, blogs have become extremely popular as both a medium to get your message out and a vehicle for paid advertising. Blogs also encourage reader comments, making them a valuable tool for gathering customer feedback. Companies such as Blogger (www.blogger.com) will host your blog for free. You can also install a blog on your own Web site with free software such as MediaWiki (http://wikipedia.sourceforge.net).
- Podcasting: Podcasts are audio files recorded in a radio talk show format. By posting podcasts on your Web site and other sites like Apple’s iTunes (www.itunes.com), customers can subscribe to your podcasts, download them as soon as they are available, and then listen to them on their computers or portable MP3 devices. The software to create podcasts is free; for more information visit www.podcastingnews.com.
- Join online communities: No matter what the topic, there are thousands of people discussing it passionately on the Internet. By contributing to these discussion groups, you can inform your customers and advertise your business..
- E-mail lists: Cultivate a list of your customers’ e-mail addresses and send them new product announcements, coupons, special offers, and useful information. See our article “Introduction to E-Mail Marketing” for more information.
- Get the attention of the press: Pitch news ideas about your industry to local newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. Pitch ideas to Web news sites. Propose that one of your employees be the expert interviewed in the news piece.
- Win awards: Research organizations that give awards for the products or services you provide. Apply for these awards and take the process seriously. When you win, make the most of the publicity.
- Donate time or resources to a charity: Encourage charitable organizations to promote your business’ donations and involvement. Try to get media coverage for the organizations and community causes you champion.
- Publish information and reports about your industry: Provide consumers with free information about your business’ industry. Invest in potential customers and they will invest in you.
- Reciprocal links: Companies such as LinkLeads (www.linkleads.com) help businesses by facilitating an exchange of hyperlinks. By allowing a company to insert links to their products on your site, a company will allow you to insert links to your products on its site.
- Reciprocal banner ads: Companies such as 123Banners (www.123banners.com) help businesses by facilitating free banner advertisement swaps. By allowing a company to advertise on your site, they allow you to advertise on theirs. Be sure you retain control over what Web sites carry your ads, and what ads you post on your site.
- Coupons: Make coupons available on your Web site and e-mail them to your customers. Encourage them to give the coupons to friends and family.
- Free samples of your product or service: Offer free samples of your product or service. Distribute these samples as widely as possible. Register your giveaways with Web sites such as A+ Free Stuff (www.aplusfreestuff.com) that act as a clearinghouse for free products. Before giving something away for free, ask customers to provide their e-mail address or fill out a short survey.
- Free classified ads: Use services like Yahoo! Classifieds (http://classieds.yahoo.com) to post free ads for your products and services. Also consider posting offers for free samples of your products, sweepstakes, and other giveaways.
- Excellent customer service: There’s no advertising like personal recommendations made between friends and family. The best way to encourage this type of “viral marketing” is to provide excellent customer service. Take the time to properly train and motivate your sales people and do what is necessary to satisfy your customers’ needs.
- Business alliances and partnerships: Build partnerships with businesses that offer complementary products and services, and then promote each other. Make joint press statements about your industry, your partnership, and your products and services. Make sure your partners provide links from their Web sites to yours.
- Ezine: Write an e-mail newsletter, called an ezine, with articles about your industry, your products and services, and related news of interest to your customers. Check out sources such as goarticles.com and ezinearticles.com, which provide free articles you can use in your ezine. Advertise your ezine for free with directory sites such as www.ezine-dir.com.
Not all these ideas may be appropriate for your business. The important thing is to think creatively and experiment. The Internet is an extremely flexible tool that gives your business many avenues for advertisement and enables you to react quickly to customer feedback.