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Making the most of your online presence

June 1st, 2007 / By: / Feature, Marketing

Employ the latest Web marketing strategies to bring in potential clients and stay one click ahead of your competitors.

Many tent rental companies and event planners mistakenly believe their online activity finishes when they successfully launch their Web sites. Reclining in their high-backed office chairs, hands behind heads, they may think their new Web sites will soon bring outstanding sales and ultimate financial success. But these hopes can be dashed once they come to the realization that a great deal more is needed to be successful in the online arena.

Web marketing, or e-marketing, is the key to getting the best results from your online presence. Staying ahead of the latest trends can be difficult, but employing a few e-marketing strategies may be all you need to put your Web site in front of a growing number of potential customers. It doesn’t matter if your company is technically savvy or if you’ve only just launched a basic, one-page Web site. Either way, e-marketing is paramount to your company’s ongoing future success.

Marketing basics still apply

It’s easy to become confused by the sheer amount of new terminology that the online environment brings. You might be familiar with words like e-commerce, hyperlinks, keywords and Flash technology. But terms such as sales funnels, auto responders, blogs, meta tags, search engine optimisation, data mining and affiliate programs can easily muddle the average tent or event professional (see “Online terms of use” for definitions).

What is important to note for every business owner is that the basic principles of marketing still apply to the online world. Your key marketing goals should be to target, understand and define your niche market. It is important to have a unique selling point and a call to action as well as a defined marketing plan and strategy.

Your company’s marketing plan might be focused around increasing your brand awareness in a particular market. Or perhaps you are trying to reach new markets altogether. Regardless of what your particular e-marketing plan and strategy is, much like real-world marketing it should create a foundation that your company can build upon. Having a solid marketing strategy will help you better execute different e-marketing techniques.

Creating a resource center

The best Web marketing strategy begins with your Web page. Your site should be a resource center rather than a promotional brochure. When you are creating the perfect Web site, you must be able to appeal to three different types of customers: existing customers, warm customers (those considering buying from you) and cold customers (those who are just browsing). Thus your site must serve three purposes and appeal to all potential client demographics.

One of the biggest problems with the majority of Web sites today is that they are about companies rather than customers. Your site should not only tell customers about who you are, but also be a resource center for all types of visitors.

The best way to draw in cold customers is with a problem-solving site. Include tent sizes and specifications, product ideas, and trends or décor information. Warm customers, on the other hand, will be looking for value in their site, for example with e-coupons or vouchers, free downloads (i.e. sample basic event layouts) or e-newsletters. Existing customers will be visiting your site with specific service needs. The best way to offer resources to existing customers is through online ordering or quoting, online account activities or other e-commerce strategies. They have already committed to spending their money on your products—the site should help them spend it easily. In all cases, it’s essential to include some professional-looking photos of your products.

A single drop, an ocean of sites

There are 439 million Web sites in the world today. Five years ago this number was 162 million, and in 1997 there were 19 million (www.isc.org). The growth seems exponential; the number of sites increases every second. Once your Web site is up and running, how on earth are your existing and prospective customers going to find it?

The answer lies in a single word: Google. People today use the name of this premier search engine as a verb: If they want to find out about something, they “Google it.” And for your site to be found on Google and other search engines such as Yahoo and MSN Search, you will need to engage in search engine optimization (SEO). This could be the most important Web marketing strategy to get your Web site to stand out among others. Achieving a high ranking in a predetermined search is really an optimum way to drive traffic to your site.

Your Web designer or webmaster should be able to guide you in the right direction in the overall process. If you are slightly more tech-savvy, you may be able to do some basic SEO yourself. Generally, a combination of relevant keywords, meta tags and well-written content on each page will help you achieve satisfactory results. For exemplary results, include several hyperlinks on each page and be sure to change or update your Web site frequently. There are many resources available on the internet that describe basic SEO techniques (just Google “SEO basics” to find several).

Keep in mind that one of the biggest mistakes you can make with your site is to having nothing but a flash file on the front page. It might look fabulous and very creative, but it does nothing for your SEO.

Those seeking the next level beyond SEO may want to invest in a pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaign. Two popular forms of PPC advertising are Google’s AdWords and Yahoo’s various search marketing options. Advertisers bid on “keywords” that they believe their target market (people they think would be interested in their offer) would type in the search bar or browser when they are looking for their type of product or service.

For example, if you want to promote wedding tents, you would bid on the keyword phrase “wedding tents,” hoping a user would type those words in the search bar, see your ad and click on your Web site link. Tent rental companies and event planners may want to consider being geographically specific, for example by bidding on the keyword phrase “tent rental Cincinnati” or something similar. The resulting ads are called “sponsored links” or “sponsored ads” and appear next to, and sometimes above, the natural or organic results on the search page. In a PPC scenario, as the name suggests, you only pay when a user clicks on your ad.

Traffic control

Increasing traffic to your Web site not only helps with your SEO efforts; it also boost your company’s brand awareness and offers better odds of gaining new business. E-mail marketing can help entice customers to your site. One effective form of e-mail marketing is the humble newsletter turned into a dynamic e-newsletter. The tracking capabilities of an e-newsletter allow you to see who opened the newsletter, who read what and when, and what action they took resulting from their reading. This technology helps you target your audience more specifically while increasing your knowledge of your existing and prospective customers.

E-newsletters are also a wonderful way to share information with your customers, your potential customers and even your staff. An e-newsletter gives you the unique opportunity to provide the latest news, tips and promotions in a cost-effective, visually compelling way. E-newsletters are a great way to build trust as well as establishing your company as an expert in its field. You can also showcase your recent work through photos and brief descriptions. This will help customers generate ideas for their own upcoming events, and including links to particular products on your site will put them even closer to purchasing. If you have strong partnerships with other event businesses, you can give them credit for their involvement in an event and include links to their sites. If you do choose to link to another company’s site, you may first want to set up an affiliate program to ensure you are paid for directing business to that company.

The key to a successful e-newsletter is to provide plenty of valuable content. If the e-newsletter is simply a plug for your business, then people either won’t read it or they will unsubscribe. That is why the 80/20 rule is important. Provide 80% of content and 20% of selling or advertising for your business. (See box “E-newsletter success” for further tips.)

You can get started with e-newsletters simply by using basic tools such as Microsoft’s Word and Excel. Using Word to create your e-newsletter and Excel as a simple database, you can create a mail-merged, personalized newsletter that will be sent to each of your recipients on your Excel database. For a more professional approach, use “pay as you go” software like Constant Contact (www.constantcontact.com) or Mail Out (www.mailout.com), which will guide you through the process of creating and sending out sensational e-newsletters. These services will ensure you meet all requirements under your country’s spam laws, as well as providing you with professional-looking e-newsletter templates—in some cases for as little as $15 per month.

Engage the audience

Blogs are now a very common online platform, but the question remains: Why would you need one for your company’s site? Although they have yet to be embraced by tent and event companies, blogs should not be overlooked. A well-managed blog is a Web marketing strategy that is quickly delivering results for many industries.

A blog encourages visitors to your site to leave measured feedback, allowing you to gauge customer awareness and opinion about your products and services. Potential customers can post their event or product questions on the blog. (If you go this route, it’s wise to let posters know how long they can expect to wait for a reply.) This encourages regular return visits to your Web site from both customers and potential customers, and it creates an open line of communication between you and your customers.

Blogs can also help with your SEO, because regularly updated sites are known to improve SEO rankings considerably. If you’re contemplating a blog for your site, there are a number of free software applications available on the Web. I recommend WordPress as it is relatively easy to set up and is highly customizable. Your current Web host or designer should be able to easily implement a blog for you using WordPress or similar software.

Moving forward

Though daunting, the new online environment offers excellent opportunities for tent and event professionals to spread the word about their services. Have an open mind when it comes to maximizing your online presence. You don’t have to be an expert. Recruit a computer-savvy employee to manage your site and SEO, or outsource the necessary talent. Companies who embrace the new technology have a chance at incredible advances for their day-to-day operations, as well as a strong foundation for tomorrow.

David Caruso is the owner of Alert Rental Centre in Sydney, Australia. He also runs an online marketing and advertising consultancy and has authored two books, Business Online Strategies and Cheese Pizza. He can be reached at dcaruso@alerthire.com.au.

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