Joel Comm is a teacher, speaker and author of the New York Times best-seller The AdSense Code.
Scott Fox is a Web entrepreneur, e-business coach and author of the bestsellers e-Riches 2.0: Next Generation Marketing Strategies and Internet Riches.
Joan Stewart is a media consultant, speaker, former newspaper editor and publicity expert. She writes “The Publicity Hound’s Tips of the Week,” a free online newsletter.
Q: What’s the most cost-effective online marketing tool?
Scott Fox: E-mail. Search engines and social networks get all the press, but e-mail is still the workhorse of the modern economy. Your best customers are likely on e-mail even more than they watch TV or talk to their kids. Whether you work for a major corporation or a home-based business, you should be using e-mail to build relationships with your customers.
E-mail newsletters are inexpensive to produce and cost virtually nothing to distribute. Plus, they can make your cash register ring by prompting customers to make purchases immediately. Even a simple quarterly newsletter offering a friendly hello and a short, informative article or product review can help you attract more sales. A weekly or monthly e-mail offering a discount or special deal for subscribers is even better.
Auto-responders can be used to automatically follow up with customers by e-mail, too. This is a convenient, scheduled way to grow revenues with little work by reminding customers to keep purchasing from you.
Joan Stewart: A blog. You can create a blog for free using a platform like WordPress (my favorite) or Blogger.com, or subscribe to a service like TypePad. Instead of buying expensive Web sites, some people use a free blog as the platform, and then have it designed so it looks like a Web site. Here are three reasons why blogs are so effective:
A blog pulls in traffic like a magnet. Search engines love blogs because blogs include information that’s much more up-to-date than Web sites, and most blogs are topic-specific.
Blogs can help position you as an expert in your field. I blog about publicity and assign each blog post to one or more of 20 subcategories about publicity. People who are searching for information on those subtopics can find my blog easily.
You can start a conversation about a particular topic and keep it going by letting people comment on your blog. Make sure you moderate your comments, which means approving them before they appear. This prevents spam comments.
Joel Comm: Having your own affiliate force promoting your products is by far the most cost-effective online marketing tool. Why be the only one talking about your goods or services when you can multiply your efforts exponentially? If you provide quality products, creative copy and banners, as well as generous commissions, you will make your affiliates happy and they will be your greatest fans.
Q: I hear a lot about using social networks for business promotion, but how does it work?
Joan Stewart: Social networking is one of the very best ways to build your brand. The most popular and the largest social networking sites include Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. MySpace has fallen out of favor with a lot of small-business people because the site is filled with sexually related content and advertising.
Social networking is all about building groups of friends, followers or connections, and then carrying on a conversation with them and building the relationship long before you start promoting. Social networking also makes it easy for people with similar interests to find you online when they type keywords into the search engines or boxes.
On sites like Facebook and Twitter, the social networking conversation should include your personal and business lives. Sharing information about things like your pets, hobbies and special interests will endear you to those who are following you. When the time comes to use these sites to discuss a new product, your followers will be more receptive because they’ll feel they already know something about you.
Scott Fox: Despite all the hype, social networks like MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn are just online tools that can help you meet and keep in touch with people easier than ever before. For business, this means you can network with potential clients and customers by connecting online. With the vast reach of social networks and all the interconnectedness of users, you can keep in touch with more people than was ever possible in the 20th century. Your message can spread like wildfire, 24/7 and worldwide, too. If your business can benefit from word-of-mouth promotion, then all the new friends you make on a social networking site can help spread your marketing messages.
Q: What’s the No. 1 marketing mistake business owners make online?
Joel Comm: The biggest mistake usually revolves around advertising. I have seen so many business owners jump into buying pay-per-click (PPC) using Google AdWords without having any idea what they are doing. Google makes it very easy to buy advertising, but making sure you receive a good ROI is more complex than just writing copy and selecting keywords. That said, once you do have a handle on PPC, it can be one of the most lucrative ways of driving traffi c to a site.
Scott Fox: Neglecting e-mail publishing is the No. 1 mistake I see businesses make online. Many companies don’t even collect e-mail addresses on their Web sites. It amazes me that anyone could ignore the opportunity to collect contact info from customers who are specifically asking to hear more about their products.
E-mail collection is easy to set up. Professional-level services cost just $19.95 per month. In fact, there are several services that will do it free in exchange for placing ads in your newsletters. Additionally, most companies that do collect e-mail addresses rarely fully use them. For example, one-third of companies fail to send anything to new e-mail subscribers in the first month after they sign up.
If you are not regularly reaching out to touch customers online by e-mail, you are missing a major sales opportunity. E-mail is virtually free to send and can be used for branding, relationship building and direct sales—or all three. It is the most cost-effective medium in history for building profitable relationships with customers. Without building and using an e-mail list of your own, you are missing the low-hanging fruit of this revenue potential.